Since its inception in London in 1982, Noises Off has been wildly successful due to its typically chaotic comedy. A hysterical farce, full of slapstick gags and fast face action, the play looks at a theatre company’s production of a play, but centers the focus backstage. Standing as a favorite of professional and community theatres across the country, CSF has chosen to serve up this offering as featuring Geoffrey Kent, Jamie Ann Romero, with direction from Lynne Collins.
Noises Off is one of those plays that most actors have heard of, read, seen the movie, lusted after, obsessively memorized, or any combination of the above. After admiring the show from the audience for years, this is the first chance to actually be part of the show for several members of the company. As she recalls in her program note, director Lynne Collins first saw the production in London, from the cheap seats. Literally, the cheap seats. “These were small planks of wood on springs,” she explains, “like the jump seats that flight attendants use.” Fortunately, the seats were the least memorable part of the production. “I laughed… so hard that I literally fell off my precarious perch and smacked my forehead on the seat in front of me.” It’s been on her to-do list ever since. For Geoffrey Kent, who plays Garry Lejeune, he first saw Noises Off locally, at the Arvada Center in 1990. “I never laughed that hard at a play before,” he says. “Since then, I have had several chances to help stage the physical comedy in the production, but this is my first time playing a role, and it is a hoot.”
Like most farces, Noises Off is fast-paced. Unlike most farces, the play progresses, revealing the same action performed from a different perspective (backstage vs. onstage). This feat, while a potential comic goldmine, takes first stamina and then precision from everyone involved. Jamie Ann Romero, who plays Brooke Ashton, was surprised by the physical requirements. “We moved from our rehearsal room where we have been running the show on a flat surface with the outline of the set taped on the floor,” she said, “to the theater where we now have doors, stairs, and two levels. I knew… it would be a challenge but I didn’t anticipate just how exhausting it could be! The next step for me is is doing it in heels.” Kent has an entirely different set of physical challenges to face. “This is my first farce that includes jumping up and down flights of stairs with my feet tied together,” he says. “Trying to find 5-10 minutes to get breath back is the hardest part right now.”
The precision element, however, doesn’t come easily. “The script is very specific,” says Collins, “and we’ve learned that we can’t vary from it much. After so many years and so many productions, this thing is a well-oiled machine.” And machines only run smoothly after many, many iterations. “There are moments we have run hundreds of times,” says Kent. “Simply dropping a few words or two steps behind on a cross can make it fall apart, so it is challenging to stay sharp and focused. But the challenge is part of the fun.” Romero and Collins agreed that due to the intricate timing, rehearsing certain parts of the show have seemed more like a dance rehearsal than anything else. “Any farce, but this show especially, can feel like choreographing an intricate dance,” says Romero. “Our dance just happens to also involve door bangs, bags, boxes, and a few plates of sardines.”
Collins offers that Noises Off is an especially great fit for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. “It relies on the same skills needed to play Shakespeare well, making big choices and helping the audience follow the story,” she says. Kent agrees that the audiences are sure to appreciate the comedy written into Noises Off, maybe even coming back to see it a second time. “I think it’ll be a great re-watcher, as there will be plenty more to catch on a second pass,” he says. “Noises [Off] celebrates our willfulness to ‘the show must go on’ and watching actors die trying to do that is pretty delightful,” he says.
Noises Off opens June 29 and plays through August 5 in the University Theatre at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.