NOISES OFF - MELBOURNE
NOISES OFF, Melbourne Theatre Company & Queensland Theatre Company, Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse 8 July-12 August 2017. Photography by Stephen Henry: above - Hugh Parker, Louise Siversen and Ray Chong Nee; below - Nicki Wendt, Louise Siversen, Ray Chong Nee, Libby Munro and Simon Burke
BY LIDDY CLARK
Michael Frayn wrote Noises Off in the 80s after standing in the wings watching another of his plays. It has had many incarnations over the years, and has stood the test of time. It’s about the machinations of a repertory company, midway through its regional tour while performing Nothing On. We see it from front of house during a rehearsal, backstage during a performance, and then from front of house again. Noises Off is a play in three distinct acts – in essence it’s a long funny set up for an extended gag and you will be rewarded in the third act when laughing hysterically “just happens”.
Farce is always difficult to pull off, harder it seems in Australia; maybe because we are not as oppressed as the Poms. Farce is about extending one’s beliefs, a lot of prat falls, door slamming, being in the right place at the wrong time and vice versa; as well, missed cues and wrong lines are essential ingredients as is the obligatory ingénue who takes off her clothes (Libby Munro).
A grand set by the master Richard Roberts gives us a large house, a lot of doors and a staircase set on a revolve for the reveal of the backstage area where we see the actors’ props and the goings-on that happen during a performance of a second-rate play, with actors who may have passed their use by date, if indeed they had one. And there’s a pompous director (Simon Burke) who is exasperated by his cast and shares his “love” between the younger women. Roberts’ costume design – down to Mrs Clackett’s droopy lisle stockings – is excellent. And lighting designer Ben Hughes captures the hues and shadows of a working theatre in the back blocks.
Director Sam Strong has assembled a cast that understands the imperative of timing, and the importance of setting up a gag. He is lucky to have Ray Chong Nee as actor Garry Lejeune playing Roger Tramplemain who tries really hard but can’t string a sentence together; Chong Nee is also a dab hand at prat falls, and movement director Nigel Poulton has obviously had a lot of rewarding work to do on the show.
Burke is suitably harassed as the exasperated director Lloyd Dallas and has great comic timing; and the pairing of Nicki Wendt and Hugh Parker as thesps Philip and Flavia Brent is inspired and they have some marvellous moments: a well-timed stare from Wendt says it all. Louise Siversen is in absolute heaven, I suspect, playing Mrs Clackett with James Saunders also having a good time as the Company and Stage Manager.
The first act is slow – intentionally – as it the set-up for what is coming next but I wanted to get there quicker. Same could be said for the second act with a dummy ending before they finally hit their comic straps in the third act. It is a long night in the theatre so hang in there and you will come away smiling. Good stuff.