We spent a very entertaining evening at the Phoenix Theatre in the West end of London, alongside actors such as John Simms, Philip Glenister, Arthur Darvil. Television writer, producer and screenwriter Steven Moffat and TV Presenter Carol Vorderman, amongst others. As we all gathered for the 40th Anniversary of ‘Noises Off ‘which has been touring the UK, but it was 40 years ago that it appeared at the Phoenix Theatre, hence all the above were assembled.
A play within a play is Noises Off. It shows the typical preparation for a show from on the stage to back stage and back on stage again. With hilarious mishaps along the way. It gets to be a very pacey and punchy show with excellent comic timing and hilarious mishaps.
It all begins with what is a very serious cast doing the final adjustments of their touring play “Nothing On” Due to lack of time and commitment by the cast, the last rehearsal which edges towards midnight and what will be the beginning of the day for the first performance. They have to combine the tech and dress rehearsal. The overstressed director Lloyd Dallas (Alexander Hanson) is not fully committed to “Nothing on” as he is working elsewhere on Shakespeare’s “Richard III”, But we discover that he is also having an affair with two women that are involved in the show.
As the music starts and the theatre lights begin to dim, an interior to a semi-suburban house is revealed as the curtain rises. A normal looking lounge, with stairs leading up to a landing where four doors are located. These will become very important as the play unfolds. actress and investor Dotty Otley (Felicity Kendal), plays the role of Mrs. Clackett, The house keeper who get easily confused. But wants to use the time, while the owners of the house are away in Spain to watch a royal event, and enjoying sardines! Her performance reminded me of Acorn Antiques, with losing her direction and getting forgetful.
The owners of the house who are hiding from the tax man. Frederick Fellowes (Jonathan Coy) who plays Philip Brent, and Belinda Blair (Tracy-Ann Oberman), as his wife, Flavia, They have come home to celebrate their wedding anniversary, but are tax- exiles and should not be in the UK. Are you keeping up?
A local estate agent Roger. Played by Garry Lejeune (Joseph Millson), is checking up on the house to make sure it is ready to be shown to potential buyers. But Roger is also using his visit as he thinks the house is empty, to try and seduce his beautiful assistant, Vicki, played by actress Brooke Ashton (Sasha Frost).
Also in the mix is Selsdon Mowbray? (Matthew Kelly), He is the whiskey drinking, past it actor, who plays a burglar; Now backstage you have Tim Allgood (Hubert Burton), the stage technical engineer, who spends most of the time understudying or sorting out technical issues along with the stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Pepter Lunkuse). She is the other woman in the love triangle with the show’s director and Vicki.
But all is not well backstage. This leads nicely into the second act. We are now at a matinee performance of “Nothing On.” The cast are struggling to keep it professional and battles and fights kick off between the actors. While we the audience clapped the end of act one and headed off for an interval the scene was turned around and as the curtain rises again, we are now back stage with the cast and seeing what it really is like between cast members. As we are now backstage, there is very little dialogue but physically has us all in fits of laughter with brilliant split-second comic timing.
Julia Rufey once directed Noises off and she said there was one side of the script for dialogue and the other side for actions. So well-rehearsed! As we are back stage The love interests of the director, become more apparent and gets more apparent to the rest of the cast. Selsdon Mowbray will often forget his lines and needs a prompt. There is one scene back stage when Poppy wants to tell the Director that she is pregnant with his baby and at that moment Seldon is calling for his prompt and as the noise of the scene stops she can be heard shouting clearly back stage “I am having a Baby” and which point Seldon returns to the stage and announces this to the audience. Priceless.
We are then left chatting and comparing funny scenes as the audience when the curtain closes for another 5 minutes, as the scene is turned around and off we go again. But this one is the last show of the run and it becomes hilariously funny.
The third act takes us back from stage, and how tired the scene is and the cast as “Nothing On” ends in Stockton-on-Tees. The show is now falling apart, the cast can’t stand each other, arguments spill over on to the stage and the acting becomes a personal attack opportunity for each cast member. There are so many sardines flying all over the place and being used to attack each other. The show is just brilliant.
Too many highlights for me to mention and I think it would only spoil it. If slapstick humour appeals to you and you want to go home with aching ribs, then you need to see this show. I have to praise Joseph Millson for his strength and stamina to play the part he does and the amount of physical comedy acting (He reminded me of John Cleese). All the cast were brilliant to get the humour across, but their comic timing was second to none. As for Felicity Kendall at 76. Well done. A true star! Please see this show before it closes. You will not be disappointed.
5 stars (Easily)
Reviewer Mark Bilsby and Alison Gabriel