Noises Off is the quintessential backstage farce. More specifically, it’s an onstage, then backstage, then onstage farce. The inventive plot follows a company from their final dress rehearsal of the farce ‘Nothing On,’ to a performance of their fast-paced comedy early in its run, and then a performance on tour late in the run. The backstage drama is even more riveting than the onstage drama, but seeing the performance from multiple angles provides nearly endless opportunities for comedy.
‘Noises Off’ A Theatre Voyeur’s Dream
HE SAID: I’ve had so many debates with people who believe that any theatre that is only meant for entertainment is just “fluff”. Well, I am not sure that this script has any grander significant meaning but I would never call it fluff. It is near masterpiece comedy and one of the only ones I know that spends entire third of the show focused on the workings of backstage during a performance – i.e. with next to no dialogue, just a lot of physicality.
SHE SAID: Although I’ve previously read this script, this was my first time seeing this onstage. First and foremost, this is an absolutely brilliant concept. I think anyone who has ever participated in the production of a theatrical piece will marvel that no one had thought to theatricalize the process in this way before. One of the reasons it’s so brilliant is due to the fact that it’s a farce-within-a-farce. The first act allows us to see plainly the difficulty of synchronized prop-tracking, door-slamming and stair-climbing, and then they put on a veritable farce marathon backstage in the second act that might be under-appreciated if it weren’t for the first act.
Cast Works Like Clockwork
HE SAID: This kind of fast-paced show relies on two key factors for success: a killer cast, who know how to handle outlandish material with earnestness, and impeccable timing in both delivery and physicality. This show delivers on both counts. While the entire cast is really top notch in this show, my favorites were Ian Anderson as Freddy, and Leslie O’Carroll as Dotty. Both had wonderfully developed characters and their physicality in the near silent second act was amazing. They also had a fair share in the third act, which gets a bit too chaotic for my taste but was still painfully funny at times.
SHE SAID: The cast should be commended for really wonderful performances. I particularly liked Gregory Kent’s Garry. Although his physical comedy was excellent, he was one of the only characters who also consistently got me laughing with his line delivery alone. Tim McCracken as Lloyd, the director was also a highlight — even if performing this demanding role in a hot theatre wasn’t uncomfortable enough, he did it in a sweater and a scarf. He was believably neurotic and caring in a familiar theatrical way. I also thought that the women with the slightly smaller roles (although everyone in this cast is busy for the entire show) — Kate Berry as Poppy and Rachel Fowler as Belinda — both gave very believable, nuanced performances that showed a lot of well-tuned skill and restraint.
Rotating Set Turns Heads (and Itself)
HE SAID: Kent was in great form for this production and I loved his work with Jamie Ann Romero, who honed all her skills to play a laughably terrible actress. Perhaps the most under-appreciated character might end up being the two story set, which completely rotates right before the audiences eyes to change from backstage to front between acts. As with any great farce, a lot of the comedy is based in the perfectly timed exits/entrances, this set has them near a dozen options for those key elements. While I would nitpick and say they could have been a bit more in synch, the timing for it all was generally remarkable.
SHE SAID: I actually didn’t have any nitpicks about timing. The nearly silent second act was perfectly timed, sometimes to the detriment of the illusion of spontaneity, but it was so fascinating to watch it was hardly problematic. And I agree, the two-story set is really something to talk about. It was great to come back into the theatre after the intermission and take a moment to imagine the entire first act from this new perspective. Just like the performers for this show, set designer Bruce Bergner should be commended just for building a set that needs to do all of the special tasks that the show demands — doorknobs need to fall off precisely when scripted to, and no other time, for example, and everything was precisely ‘on’ when we saw it.
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Noises Off Is Off the Hook Comedy
THEY SAID: If you’ve never experienced the non-stop physical comedy inside this brilliantly conceived piece of theater, CSF’s production should be at the top of your ‘to-see’ list this summer. If you’re familiar with the show and are craving the kind of comedy that is best served with a plate of sardines, this production is bound to satisfy you. It’s truly a treat to see this capable cast handle such the commendable script with such expertise and skill.
For more information on Noises Off, see the wikipedia page. Noises Off plays through August 5th at the University Theatre on the CU Boulder campus. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.