By Wilf Arasaratnam
Noises Off shows the behind the scenes mayhem of stage shows
I thought, "It's normally a good sign when you're left smirking from just reading the programme and you haven't yet seen the play!"
Along with a humorous programme, I had also heard that Noises Off was packed with a talented cast of accomplished actors that included Lowestoft-born, but West End-starring, Rosemary Ashe. I was looking forward to an entertaining evening.
Noises Off is like one of those Russian dolls that have another doll within them.
This comedy is about the behind the scenes chaos of a fictional farce called Nothing On, which is touring second rate provincial theatres.
In the first act, we share the desperation that the cast and director of Nothing On are going through as they madly try to master this farce.
Rather inventively Jamie Newall, who plays the stressed director Lloyd Dallas, sits away from the stage up in the balcony amongst the audience as though he was directing, and this leads us, the audience, to feel the intimacy and anticipation of a dress rehearsal.
The audience in the first act is simmered as though we are a winter soup on the hob.
During this we are introduced to the play within the play, Nothing On, and the jealousies and tensions of both the actors and backstage crew that are putting this play on.
In this first act, two comedic elements are cleverly prepared.
First of all, once the semi-competent actors who are the characters in this play get past their issues, we are treated to a rather humorous farce which takes us back to the early 1980s, when Noises Off was written.
However, at the same time, comic set pieces are set up in this act which will then yield their full potential later on in the play.
During the interval, I chatted to a fellow theatre goer.
He had seen the original London production in the early 1980s and I took it to be a ringing endorsement that he wanted to see the same play, again, 30 years later.
Lowestoft's Rosemary Ashe impresses as Dotty
As the lights dimmed, I noticed that the set had been reversed and the second act would be seen from back stage.
The cast and crew had survived dress rehearsal and are now performing at Ashton under Lyme.
During this act much of the comedy arises from beautifully timed slapstick and farce which due to the hush of backstage is short on dialogue but long on comedy.
The final act which takes place after a 10 minute interval occurs in another theatre.
The stage then is rotated around again so we are now viewing proceedings from front of house. This time because various jealousies and stresses have built up we see the Stockton on Tees performance come to a rather surreal and shambolic but humorous end.
I was rather impressed by the New Wolsey's first home grown show of the Spring season and I was pleased by the quality ensemble cast, whose previous credits range from radio and the West End to TV and in some cases film.
We are lucky to have such a fine production along with such accomplished theatrical talent performing in Ipswich.
Noises Off is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until 13 March, 2010.
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