The only noise heard is laughter

MAKING A NOISE: Gerard Carey (left), Edward Baker-Duly, Andrew Havill, Annette McLaughlin, Brigit Forsyth, Djalenga Scott, Brian Protheroe, Louise Shuttleworth and Ian Lindsay reach the end of the run of Nothing On, along with reaching the end of their tether, mind and everything else in Noises Off. Picture: Robert Day. 

Noises Off

Birmingham Rep


TAKE a third rate touring company dragging a fourth rate farce around the non-league theatre circuit - the sort of towns and resorts that can't manage a football league team - and there you have Noises Off.

This is Michael Frayn's celebrated comedy about treading the boards which, as they say, is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on  - apart from Djalenga Scott that is.

She spends most of the time with her clothes off as Brooke Ashton who is playing Vicki, the standard farce staple bimbo, in the play within a play and  under what is probably some unwritten by-law covering farces, she is obliged to spend much of the evening in French knickers and frilly bra. Not that I am complaining mind you.

There are also the obligatory couples caught in remarkably compromising situations through the most innocent of circumstances, many a trousers around ankles and no less than nine doors to provide endless permutations for confusion.

The play is in three acts opening in the early hours of the morning of the opening night with the cast battling through the technical-come-dress rehearsal for a new play, Nothing On, and losing rather badly.


Bridget Forsyth (pictured right) as the forgetful Dotty Otley in Noises Off who in turn plays Mrs Clackett in Nothing on (with me?) struggles to remember which props she has to use, particularly the sardines, which should really get a bow of their own, while Edward Baker-Duly's Frederick, who in turn plays the part of playwright Philip Brent in the play that the play is about (do try to keep up at the back!) needs explanations to create his motivation for his every acting action, including carrying a box into a study, while the despairing director Lloyd Dallas (Brian Protheroe) slowly drifts towards either madness or a coronary.

To add to his problems he is also in a love triangle with Brooke and the assistant stage manager Poppy (Louise Shuttleworth).

Act Two is well into the tour when relationships are frayed and the whole set is reversed so we are backstage for a chaotic matinee performance with Garry attempting to kill Frederick,  Brook about to walk out and Poppy trying to tell Lloyd her desperate news. Finally in Act Three we are back in the audience for closing night in Stockton-on-Tees when just about everything falls apart.

The play, not the play in the play, just the play strikes a chord with anyone who has ever had anything to do with a theatrical production from the local church hall upwards and the excellent cast of nine seemed to thoroughly enjoy lampooning their profession.


Andrew Havill as Garry Lejeune the actor playing an amorous (or at least he hopes he will be) estate agent rushes around the stage in a manic, ungainly gallop and completes the evening with a slapstick fall down stairs of real class. Backstage he has the hots for Dotty and is jealous of Frederick who gets nose bleeds at any hint of violence.

Meanwhile Ian Lindsay staggers from scene to scene as the deaf and, whenever he can manage it, drunk, Selsdon who in turn plays a burglar.

Annette McLaughlin by comparison is almost normal as Belinda, darling, playing Philip's wife and behind them all, holding Nothing On together, in a rather loose sort of way, are the stage manager  (Gerard Carey) and Poppy, his emotional assistant..

The timing of the entire cast – critical to any comedy - is immaculate and they manage the switch between the painfully ham acting in the play what the play is all about (still with me) and the portrayal of their real characters in the real play, not the play . . . oh never mind, beautifully and they do seem to be having as much fun as the audience.

There are moments, particularly in the second and third acts when it flags a bit although it would be a near impossible task to keep up the laughs at breakneck pace for two and a half hours.

But since it first appeared in 1982 Noises Off has been regarded as one of the funniest plays in the English theatre and this slick production, based on the National Theatre version of 2000 and directed by Ian Talbot can only enhance that view. It is deliciously funny, beautifully observed, skilfully crafted on a marvellous set by Paul Farnsworth  and I doubt you will laugh half as much again at a play this year. To 05-06-10.

Roger Clarke


These two men walked into a theatre . . .


THIS famous comedy takes you inevitably from the sublime to the ridiculous in Michael Frayn's play within a play.

It's a story about a company of actors rehearsing for Nothing On but getting into a range of crazy situations with the usual scenario of trousers going down, a glamorous girl who spends most of the time darting around in stockings, suspenders, knickers and bra, people charging in and out of doors or up and down stairs.

Brilliantly funny for a while, but by the end of the performance I was rather tiring of the antics, although it has to be said that a good section of the audience were choking with laughter.

You can have too much of a good thing, even though you have to admire the fitness of the cast who will have covered a few miles and perhaps pulled a few muscles by the time the Brum run ends.

Andrew Havill, for instance, plays Garry Lejeune with a switch of pace, sudden change of direction and an ability to fall downstairs that makes him a John Cleese lookalike.

Djalenga Scott is a delight as the pouting Brooke Ashton, more out of than in her sexy red dress, and Brigit Forsyth excels as the error prone housekeeper, Dotty Otley, while Brian Protheroe performs the role of the group's director, Lloyd Dallas, operating for part of the show from a seat in the auditorium.

An amusing performance, too, from Ian Lindsay as the boozy burglar Selsdon Mowbray.

A superb set represents the inside of a plush home in the first act, and revolves to show life and passion backstage after the interval.

Directed by Ian Talbot, Noises Off goes on till 05.06.10

Paul Marston  


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