Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

The loudest sound is laughs

Noises Off

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


ANYONE who has ever been involved in any theatrical production at whatever level will know disaster is just a fluffed line or missing prop away while there is often more comedy and better drama offstage than on.

That was what struck Michael Frayne in 1970 as he watched a performance of his farce The Two of Us from the wings.

Twelve years later Noises off was born, the tale of a small touring company criss-crossing the country with a second rate farce on stage and a first rate one backstage as jealousies, affairs and high-strung theatricals clash in the wings.

It seems an easy production to do, a bad play made worse when things go wrong, and loads of backstage running about and bickering. How wrong can you be. Making a play go wrong right, if you see what I mean, is not easy and the set requirements are a challenge for any amateur company.

You need a full stage set for the play which requires at least seven doors and a solid upstairs – farces are not complete without bedrooms - which then has to be reversed so you see the back of the set for the second act, and then has to be reversed again for the final act.

And, just so the audience don’t have to bring sandwiches and sleeping bags for between acts, those reversals have to be achieved in normal length intervals.

It is a task beyond many amateur companies, so first credit in this show goes to Andy Hares for his set design of the living room of a 16th century posset mill solidly built on revolves and castors.

Farce and comedy is not the easiest to perform, timing is everything, and the cast of nine never seemed to put a foot wrong, or would that be right . . . anyhow it ran badly smoothly with the cast, like the audience, seeming to enjoy every minute.


We had Tony Childs as the director Lloyd Dallas, who bullies, cajoles and comforts his cast through the production, comforting the emotional Assistant Stage Manager Poppy, played by Lucy Bannister, a little too much we discover later in his love triangle which also involves Vicki, who plays Brooke, the tax inspector and bit on the side in the play and in turn is played by Poppy Cooksey-Heyfron. Vicki is in a world of her own and loses her contact lenses on a regular basis.

Then there is Dotty Otley who is playing Mrs Clackett the sardine obsessed housekeeper with both being played by Janet Bright, if you follow, and actor Garry Lejeune, playing randy Roger, estate agent and would be-lothario, who is played by Steve Willis. The pair have a thing going which has trouble written all over it.

Garry has a slight stutter and ends every sentence midway through with “you know”, as in “It’s been a nice . . . you know”. He also has violent tendencies as we discover when Dotty winds him up by showing an interest in Freddy.

Freddy being actor Frederick Fellowes who plays successful writer Philip Brent in the play within a play and is played by Paul Bellamy. He not one of nature’s gifted; Freddy questions the simplest stage direction and needs to know his motivation as an actor before continuing, exasperating Lloyd who humours him. He has the novelty of instant nosebleeds at any hint of violence or mention of blood.

Jane Lush plays actress Belinda Blair, who in turn plays Philip’s wife Flavia. Belinda seems about the sanest of the cast ad fusses over Freddy backstage.


Craftiest of the cast is Selsdon who plays the burglar and is in turn played by Jim Austin. Selsdon is an ancient Thespian, hard of hearing with a penchant for whiskey and the ability to create mass panic if he goes missing, which he does regularly, generating fears he will miss cues or even whole performances, eventually being found tired and emotional as a newt.

Trying, with little success to hold everything together is stage manager and understudy for Selsdon, Tim, played by Lewis Jones.

We follow the first act of Nothing On around the highlights of the touring circuit from Weston-Super-Mare to Ashton-Under-Lyne and its final performance in Stockton-on-Tees in a whirl of laughs and slapstick.

Frayn’s script exploits the weaknesses in each character in the backstage bickering which starts to impact on what happens onstage while the cast manage the necessary distinction between the characters they play and the characters their characters play onstage, all of which adds another layer to the humour.

The second act depends heavily on mime and although it becomes a little confused at times it is still frantic fun, full of violence and nose bleeds, whiskey and flowers, and a dramatic revelation to stop everyone in their tracks. Director Sue Smith manages to keep up a cracking pace throughout but particularly in that backstage second act when actions have to speak louder than words for much of the time.

A play about a play with things going wrong on and off stage, absurdly, cannot afford any mistakes and none were noticeable in a fine production full of laughs – the ideal way to lift the gloom of winter for a couple of hours. To 15-11-14.

Roger Clarke


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