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posted/updated: 06 Oct 2019 -
Noises Off
By Michael Frayn. Produced by Playful Productions, Kilimanjaro Theatricals, Karl Sydow, Tulchin/Bartner and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre.
society/company: West End & Fringe (directory)
performance date: 04 Oct 2019
venue: Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0HH
reviewer/s: Paul Johnson (Sardines review)

Noises Off at the Garrick Theatre. Photo: Helen Maybanks


After interviewing Meera Syal for our latest issue, we were fortunate to drop into London’s Garrick Theatre this week to see how the star faired in the brand-new West End production of the play that inspired our name twelve years ago.

Michael Frayn’s timeless and ingenious farce takes just thirty seconds to drop the first ‘S-bomb’, after which, ‘Sardines’ must be mentioned around one hundred times throughout the evening. Not only do I think we got the name right, but this barnstorming production is going to go a long way to providing people with the answer to the “So, why are you called ‘Sardines’?” question. The proof will be seen as we move forward.

The new production at the Garrick represents the show’s transfer from its recent sellout run at Hammersmith’s Lyric Theatre – the venue where Noises Off took its first breath in 1982. With director Jeremy Herrin making five changes to the production’s nine-strong cast, alongside Meera Syal as Sardines-loving Dotty, Daniel Rigby as randy estate agent Garry, Simon Rouse as alcoholic stage veteran Selsdon, and Lloyd Owen as company director Lloyd Dallas… comes the hilarious Sarah Hadland as cast gossip Belinda, Richard Henders as blood-and-violence-phobic Freddie, Lisa McGrillis as air-headed Brooke, Anjli Mohindra as vulnerable assistant stage manager Poppy, and Adrian Richards as put-upon and company tour manager Tim.

I’ve seen Noises Off four times now, as well as having directed an amateur version of the play while also jumping into the cast at short notice. The challenge of this of course comes in the knowledge that I’ll never see the show for the first time ever again – when a farce of this quality leaves you short of breath. The couple sitting behind me this week were quite obviously Noises Off newbies as I don’t think they stopped laughing throughout; in fact they became more and more uncontrollable as the evening went on.

Knowing the play so well does let me fully appreciate the quality of Frayn’s writing as well as Herrin’s vision – without ignoring Max Jones’s revolving set design, Joyce Henderson’s movement and RC-Annie’s impressive fight direction. The cast have produced a brilliant first act where the company’s sheer comic ability fully brings the author’s characters alive as the fictitious company of Otstar Productions – during a last-minute, late-night technical rehearsal – prepares to tour the equally fictitious playwright, Robin Housemonger’s, fictitious comedy, Nothing On.

The famous middle act, where the set has rotated 180° and the tour is firmly on the road, is where the ‘Noises Off’ element kicks in. Despite personalities clashing, infidelities exposed and everybody treading on eggshells… the show must go on, right? The act is rightly performed with breakneck speed and precision as the energy builds during the company's first act performance of Nothing On. And here lies my only criticism: There are so many plotlines to simultaneously keep alive – all in silence – that I’m not convinced the audience is physically able to follow them all. For example, when Selsdon comes across a bottle of Scotch backstage he sneaks off to open it, making the excuse that he’s popping to the toilet. However, nobody is fooled and, one by one, the rest of the cast run off (or are sent off) to retrieve both Selsdon and the Whiskey. The gesture of pulling an overhead toilet chain-flush to explain what is going on offstage is done so fast that I suspect the audience may fail to acknowledge this funny sub-plot, and therefore won’t understand why people keep running offstage.

This is the only reason why I haven’t awarded a fifth star. Having said that, the ‘silent act’ contains so many other goings on, there is never a dull moment. The hilarious ‘axe’ sequence in particular is very well-worked, as is Brooke – after losing yet another contact-lens – blindly staggers onstage in her underwear and promptly falls over the sofa.

As with the first, the final act is also a joy to watch as the set is rotated once more and we see the result of the backstage chaos spilling into the performance area as the tour reaches its last leg (literally). It is here that Daniel Rigby’s energy really shines as Garry attempts to keep the show on-track, despite Brooke being seemingly unable to adapt to the escalating madness by sticking to her lines like clockwork. Rigby’s fall down the stairs is wonderfully done at the show’s farcical climax.

Noises Off is a complete ensemble performance and, as such, all nine actors equally feed off one another but, at the same time, together produce a beautiful synergy. Highly recommended.

Noises Off plays at the Garrick Theatre until 4th January 2020.
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Noises Off at the Garrick Theatre. Photo: Helen Maybanks

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