Main Stage Production
by Michael Frayn
June 14 - 30, 2013
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays @ 8pm, Sundays @ 2pm
Want to laugh so hard you almost can't breathe? Noises off is the work of a comedic genius. A bunch of oddball theatrical types take their terrible show, a sex comedy titled "Nothing On," out on the road. We follow the performances from rehearsal to the end of the tour, the farce taking place onstage matched by what occurs simultaneously backstage. One New York Times critic called this "the funniest play written in my lifetime." Don't miss it.
In his plot for Noises Off, Frayn plays on the concept of a play within a play, in this case a dreadful sex-comedy titled Nothing On—the type of play in which young girls run about in their underwear, old men drop their trousers, and many doors continually open and shut. Nothing On is set in "a delightful 16th-century posset mill" that has been converted to a modern dwelling for which renters are solicited; the fictional playwright is appropriately named Robin Housemonger. Each of the three acts of Noises Off contains a performance of the first act of Nothing On.
Act One is set at the dress rehearsal, the night before opening at the (fictional) Grand Theatre in Weston-super-Mare, with the cast still fumbling with entrances and exits, missed cues, misspoken lines, and bothersome props, most notably several plates of sardines.
Act Two portrays a Wednesday matinee performance one month later, at the (again fictional) Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. In this act, the play is seen from backstage, providing a view that reveals the deteriorating personal relationships among the cast that have led to offstage shenanigans and onstage bedlam. Also, there appears to be no true resolution. The play simply falls into turmoil and disorder before the curtain is pulled.
In Act Three, we see a performance near the end of the ten-week run, at the (still fictional) Municipal Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees, when personal friction has continued to increase and everyone is bored and anxious to be done with the play. The actors attempt to cover up a series of mishaps but only compound the problems and draw attention to the bungling performance.
Much of the comedy emerges from the subtle variations in each version as off-stage chaos affects on-stage performance, with a great deal of slapstick. The contrast between players' on-stage and off-stage personalities is also a source of comic dissonance.
The play premiered at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London in 1982, directed by Michael Blakemore and starring Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington, and Nicky Henson. (Included within the show's program was a facsimile of a program for a play called Nothing On, complete with biographical notes for the fictitious cast.) It opened to universally ecstatic reviews and shortly after transferred to the West End's Savoy Theatre in The Strand, where it ran until 1987 with five successive casts. It won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy.
On December 11, 1983, a production directed again by Blakemore and starring Dorothy Loudon, Victor Garber, Brian Murray, Deborah Rush, Douglas Seale, and Amy Wright opened in New York City at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where it ran for 553 performances. It earned Tony Award nominations for Best Play and for Blakemore, Rush, and Seale, and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble.
Noises Off has become a staple of both professional theatre companies and community theaters on both sides of the Atlantic. On October 5, 2000, the National Theatre in London mounted a revival, directed by Jeremy Sams and starring Patricia Hodge, Peter Egan and Aden Gillett, that ran for two years, transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End on May 14, 2001 with Lynn Redgrave and Stephen Mangan replacing Hodge and Egan, respectively. Sams' production transferred to Broadway, again at the Brooks Atkinson, on November 1, 2001, with Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, Faith Prince, T.R. Knight, and Katie Finneran. The production was nominated for a Tony and Drama Desk Award as Best Revival of a Play, and Finneran was named Best Featured Actress by both groups.
Frayn has continually rewritten the play over the years, the last time being in 2000 at the request of Jeremy Sams. There are numerous differences between the scripts published in 1982 and 2000. Some new sequences have been added (e.g., an introduction to act three, in which Tim, the Company Stage Manager, and Poppy, the Assistant Stage Manager, make simultaneous apologies — the former in front of the curtain, the latter over the PA — for the delay in the performance). Other sequences have been altered or cut entirely. References that tend to date the play (such as Mrs. Clackett's to the Brents having colour television) have been eliminated or rewritten.
In January of 2004, Billy Ryan High School in Denton, TX performed the play with an interesting twist. The script calls for the set to be turned around during the first intermission to allow the audience to see the second act from the perspective of being backstage. The students designed and built a set that was fully reversible, however during the late stages of the rehearsal process, one student noted that the theatre had plenty of backstage space and suggested they actually move the audience backstage instead of turning the set around. This unique perspective on the show was a new experience for the actors and audience alike.
The most recent revival ran from December 3, 2011 to March 10, 2012 at the Old Vic Theatre, directed by Lindsay Posner and starring Jonathan Coy, Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson, Aisling Loftus, Amy Nuttall and Paul Ready. This production transferred to the Novello Theatre in the West End from March 24 to June 30, 2012.
In 1992, the play was adapted for the screen by Marty Kaplan. The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and stars Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Nicollette Sheridan, Denholm Elliott, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker and Marilu Henner,
Note: The movie is available through Amazon.com. Click on the link on the left to be taken there.