England's Daily Telegraph reviewed the 2008 touring production of Noises Off, calling it "the funniest comedy ever written." That's a bold claim, especially since I've met people who have seen the play and were not amused. They offered such opinions as:
- "It's too long."
- "Too much slapstick."
- "I thought it was vulgar."
What is 'Noise Off' About?
Noises Off is a play within a play. It is about an ambitious director and his troupe of mediocre actors. The cast and crew are putting together a silly sex comedy titled, Nothing On - a single-set farce in which lovers frollic, doors slam, clothes are tossed away, and embarrassing hi-jinks ensue.
The three acts of Noises Off expose different phases of the disastrous show, Nothing On:
- Act One: On stage during dress rehearsal.
- Act Two: Backstage during a matinee performance.
- Act Three: On stage during a delightfully ruined performance.
Act One: The Dress Rehearsal
While the impatient director, Lloyd Dallas, trudges through the opening scene of Noises On, the actors keep breaking character. Dottie keeps forgetting when to take her plate of sardines. Garry keeps challenging the stage directions in the script. Brooke is clueless about her fellow performers, and constantly loses her contact lens.
Act One lampoons the common problems which typically occur during the rehearsal process:
- Forgetting your lines.
- Second guessing your director.
- Misplacing your props.
- Missing your entrances.
- Falling in love with fellow cast members.
Yes, aside from from all of the physical comedy, the conflict of Noises Off is intensified when several of the theater romances turn sour. Because of jealousy, double-crosses, and misunderstandings, tensions mount, and the performances of Nothing On go from bad to worse to wonderfully awful.
Act Two: Backstage Antics
The second act of Noises Off takes place entirely backstage. Traditionally, the entire set is rotated to reveal the behind the scenes events which unfold. It is fun to watch the same scene of Nothing On from a different perspective.
For anyone who has been backstage during a show - especially when something goes wrong - Act Two is bound to conjure a flood of hilarious memories. Despite the characters backstabbing one another, they somehow manage to get through their scene. But that's not the case with the final act of the play.
Act Three: When Everything Goes Wrong
In Act Three of Noises Off, the cast of Nothing On has been performing their show for nearly three months. They are seriously burnt out.
When Dottie makes a few mistakes during her opening scene, she just begins to ramble, making up lines from off the top of her head. The rest of the characters then make a series of mistakes: Garry can't improvise his way out of a paper bag. Brooke doesn't pay attention to the changes that are rapidly occurring -- she just keeps doing her lines, even when they aren't appropriate. And the veteran actor, Selsdon, can't keep away from booze. By the play's end, their show is a comical catastrophe -- and the audience is rolling in the aisles, loving every moment.
If you have never experienced theater as an actor or a crew member, then perhaps Noises Off is simply an entertaining show with a lot of laughs. However, for those of us who "tread the boards," Michael Frayn's Noises Off might very well be the funniest play ever written.