Noises Off review, Garrick Theatre: Michael Frayn's classic farce is riotous fun

The cast of Noises Off perform at the Garrick Theatre, London's West End: Helen Maybanks
The cast of Noises Off perform at the Garrick Theatre, London's West End: Helen Maybanks

Estate agent Garry Lejeune (Daniel Rigby) is standing in a tattered suit, with a stunned look on his face. “The sardines,” he cries, “they’re gone!”. Before him on set sits a full plate of sardines. Something has gone wrong.

In Michael Frayn’s brilliant meta-farce Noises Off (1982), the fourth wall is not so much broken as smashed down, along with much of the set. This is the “play gone wrong” par excellence.

The cast plays a low-budget theatre troupe putting on the play-within-a-play, “Nothing On”, in which successive characters try to make use of a house they believe to be empty.

The idle housekeeper; an estate agent and his lover; the non-dom owners and a professional burglar all run through the house, becoming ever-more paranoid until they finally crash into each other in a farcical climax.

At least, that is what director Lloyd Dallas, fiercely played by Lloyd Owen, is trying valiantly to put on. We are shown the scene from the front and from the back. Then we watch it turn upside down as the actors’ personal relationships throw the play off-course.

The choreography of the characters is a feat in itself. We watch Belinda Blair (Sarah Hadland) and Brooke Ashton (Lisa McGrillis) play a lustful wife and girlfriend, popping in and out of rooms while Dotty Otley (Meera Syal), the oblivious housekeeper, emerges with a limitless supply of roasted fish, always to leave something behind.

Simon Rouse plays Selsdon Mowbray, who acts as the burglar, and distinguishes himself with his capricious alcoholism and missed cues, leading to a riotous moment where he finds himself on stage next to his understudy. By this point, the elderly gentleman next to me, whose 175ml glass of wine had put him to sleep, was jolted awake by the screams of laughter from the audience.

The set, while basic, is masterfully used. We see the scene from the back, as characters bicker and panic minutes before the curtain is raised. This moment of pure dread must be repeated across drama schools and theatres the world over. Our greatest sympathies must lie with the two poor stage hands, Poppy (played by Anjili Mohindra) and Tim (Adrian Richards), who run around trying to clear up the mess caused by the squabbling actors.

But the best part? There are no topical references. No politics. It would have been so easy. But there isn’t one mention. Just the dishevelled beauty of a self-contained omnishambles, a Schadenfreude nightmare brought to life by the sheer force of human incompetence.

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