Old Vic and Novello, London
28th January and 20th June, 2012
Being hailed as the greatest farce of the 20th century, Lindsay Posner’s production of Michael Frayn’s backstage comedy is just as good as expected. The Old Vic made a brave move deciding to put on the ultimate farce in a theatre society saturated with comedies and farces at the moment but it proved to pay off as it was the first Old Vic production to transfer across the Thames into the West End.
The Old Vic’s scheme of selling £12 tickets for under-26 year olds allowed me to book only 6 days in advance and buy a front row centre seat for this hilarious comedy. When entering the auditorium, the set is on show: the interior for a country cottage for a terrible British sex farce Nothing On. The stage is set for act one which sees the final rehearsal for the doomed play, with actors still unsure what they’re doing, the set causing mishaps and a short-fused director who yearns for the RSC but has been landed instead with end-of-the-pier theatre. ‘Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That's farce. That's the theatre. That's life’ cries Robert Glenister’s brilliant portrayal of Lloyd Dallas as he joins the company on stage after spending most of act one in the auditorium. The dry humour in his performance is superb and he exemplifies what farce is all about: ordinary people in extraordinary situations. At the end of the day, they would all rather be somewhere else, but especially the director, even if he is sleeping with two of the company members. When seeing the production for the second at time, at the Novello, I noticed that he had a microphone for the parts in the auditorium, perhaps because the acoustics are different in the auditorium even though it is more intimate that the Old Vic’s, or maybe it was to stop Glenister from straining his voice as I did hear that he was struggling with vocal problems during the show’s run.
Celia Imrie as Dotty is also superb (as is the whole cast). She switches from a theatre ‘pro’ who has money in the show to the modest Mrs. Clackett in Nothing On. Janie Dee, Jonathan Coy (who is enjoying many a successful theatre run at the moment) Jamie Glover, Karl Johnson and Paul Ready also impress in playing their part to trying stop the show falling apart. Karl Johnson’s Selsdon plays the burglar in Nothing On although Selsdon spends half the time trying to get drunk and the other lamenting on a once-successful acting career. Jamie Glover expertly falls down stairs and hectically jumps up them with his laces tied and excels at playing an actor who is desperately trying to keep on going no matter what is put in his way to stop him. Anyone with experience with being involved in a production can relate (to some extent) what potentially go on behind the scenery.
Amy Nuttall excellently played the vacant Brooke (who spends most of the show in lingerie and looking for her contact lenses) as did Aisling Loftus as the overwhelmed ASM, Poppy. It was particularly impressive when she actually blushed when realising Selsdon was stood behind her.
The wonderful, highly nuanced, almost balletic second act is a piece of theatre to be proud of and displays some of the funniest pieces of physical comedy you will see in a play. The third act nicely completes it. We see ‘one last push’ at trying not to let Nothing On completely fall apart in the actors’ hands, but ultimately it does along with the set doing so as well. To top it all off, the theatre curtain falling on top of a mass of scrambling actors made for a brilliant end.
Noises Off played at the Old Vic over Christmas 2011-12 and then played at the Novello Theatre in the summer of 2012. The same production will be touring the UK in 2013 and it was recently picked as one of theatrical highlights of 2012 by The Guardian.