Noises Off

Sports Editor JONNY SINGER swaps fields for farces and finds no reason for regret.

ADC ADC theatre farce Jonny Singer mainshow michael frayn

ADC Theatre, 9th-19th February, 7.45pm, £6-10

Directed by Max Barton

[rating: 4.5/5]

Words. Doors. Bags. Boxes. Sardines. Noises Off has them all in abundance. A farce about a farce is a concept which could, if done badly, be a painfully unfunny metatheatrical mess. Not so here.

Act One, the dress rehearsal, where everyone is ‘my love’, ‘darling’ or ‘sweetie’ has much of the audience in stitches, while Act Three, the stage view of the last night of the run, brought tears of laughter to my eyes.

In between is a marginally weaker second Act, set backstage during a performance, which starts slowly, explaining the events of the intervening months. Once it does pick up though, shoelaces, whiskey, a sledgehammer and a cactus provide almost too much comedy to fit on a single stage.

It’s a farce – of course someone’s trousers fall down

The plot is simple enough. A company is putting on a comedy, the first act of which we see from three slightly different angles. The play is an obvious flop, the actors are either washed up or talentless, and the director is more concerned with his upcoming production of Richard III and screwing the cast than the show’s success. If this sounds all too familiar, then maybe you’ve been spending too much time at the ADC.

The acting is first-class throughout. Jason Forbes, as Garry LeJeune, is as good in Act One, through his bumbling speeches as he is in Act Three where he carries off less subtle comedy brilliantly. Falling down the stairs or off the stage shouldn’t be this funny!

Ben Kavanagh, the fraught director of the play within, conveys his frustration wonderfully, with a realism which makes you wonder whether it may be a bit too close to the truth, while Charlotte Reid makes the almost unbelievably stupid Brooke wholly believable.

It would be easy to over-do the part of Seldon, the old, deaf, drunk actor, but Will Attenborough is quite frankly hilarious. The feel of a pensioner expertly sustained, and, though it might be slightly over the top, the effect is complete confidence in Seldon as an old man.

The same is not quite true of Katherine Jack’s performance. Though largely excellent, her display would surely leave much of the audience unaware that she is meant to be an ‘old bag lady’. But that is a minor point, and one of the few negatives hidden inside this hugely enjoyable evening of theatre. The revolving set is fantastic, the timing of the comedy almost universally well executed.

Noises Off is not ‘high art’. If you want ‘serious theatre’ (said in your best thesp voice) then this probably isn’t for you. It’s unashamedly silly, at times beautifully slapstick, and funnier than anything else Cambridge has to offer. The poster chooses to remind us that The New York Times once called this ‘The funniest farce ever written’. That’s a lot to live up to, but this doesn’t disappoint. This play is not put on very often, but on the basis of this production, and the audience’s reaction to it, it really should be.