Photos by Helen Maybanks
Well I’m happy to report that this publication’s signature show is in competent hands – back at the Lyric Hammersmith where it premiered 37 years ago. Surreal plates of sardines, of course, abound for no apparent reason and the whole thing purrs along hilariously. It’s a timeless classic, often revived, although I haven’t seen it since 2004 at the Piccadilly Theatre, when it was directed by Jeremy Sams.
The play succeeds, as always, because it’s so beautifully observed. Anyone who’s ever been in a rehearsal room immediately recognises every cast member as they struggle to sort out their production of the farce, Nothing On – the flighty one, the useless one, the pretentious one, the boozer, the one who tries to sooth everyone else and so on. Yes, they’re exaggerated but not much. It’s theatrical self-mockery at its best.
Meera Syal is in fine form as Dotty (by name and by nature) scuttling about as the housekeeper who forgets line, muddles props and has a dreadful cod “vernacular” accent. It’s not a million miles from her TV role in The Kumars at No 42 but she does it well.
Noises Off is actually a farce within a farce in which all the main characters play both themselves and themselves being actors. It can succeed only when the cast work really tightly together as they do here especially in the middle act which is nearly all mime as the action unrolls behind the set – very physical, very funny and very effective under Jeremy Herrin’s direction.
Within the inner farce Daniel Rigby – urbane, slippery and randy estate agent played by Garry Lejeune – impresses and creates a nice contrast with Jonathan Cullen’s misfortune-prone house owner Jonathan Fellowes. Simon Rouse is engaging as the dypso actor who is usually missing and Belinda Blair and Amy Morgan present two contrasting female characters. The balance is pleasingly judged.
Lloyd Owen’s work as the hapless, useless, self-absorbed director provides plenty of gravel in the mix and bravo Eny Okoronkwo and Lois Chimimba in the slightly more minor backstage roles. Both have a lovely sense of dead pan comic timing and the sort of angst farce calls for as it becomes ever more absurd and manic.
I saw this production on a day when, for personal reasons, I was in desperate need of light relief. I got it in spades.