Noises Off At The Garrick Is Clever But Not That Funny
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"Well, that was a farce," summed up the lady in front of us at the close of Michael Frayn's 1982 comedy Noises Off. For all the superlative praise it's had, it's debatable whether that underwhelming assessment was symptomatic of the fact that, well, it just isn't that funny.
Noises Off is based on the travails of a touring company who are rehearsing a farce but the mistakes and off stage dramas threaten to pull the rug beneath everyone, sardines and plates tumbling in its wake. It time lapses over rehearsal, to back stage of a rehearsal to the performance itself. Actors play characters playing characters. It is a meta-farce.
Action is set in Weston-Super-mare's Grand Theatre. Daniel Rigby, playing Garry Lejeune as Roger Tramplemain is some kind of estate agent who has keys to a cosy property where he hopes to smuggle in current flame Vicki/Brooke Ashton (Lisa McGrillis). Dotty Otley/Mrs Clackett (Meera Syal) is bustling about and a second couple, house owners Belinda Blair and Frederick Fellowes come back to throw another spanner into Roger's scheme.
The collision of the two worlds rehearsed and real is effective at first. It plays with the idea of belief and the audience's basic gullibility, who will believe anything that's presented as truth until the spell is broken — in this case by exasperated director Lloyd Dallas, played by Lloyd Owen.
But this subtler experience was limited to the first 20 minutes. Thereafter, the focus was on the balder humour of pratfalls which just got amplified as the evening went on. Someone sits on a cactus! The sardines are dropped! Someone mops up the sardines! Banisters are broken, and someone comes on as a Sheikh wearing a sheet!
Unfortunately, the whole thing seems dated. The best recent comedies Fleabag, Peep Show and even Only Fools and Horses, which was recently staged, work because they operate on both comic and tragic levels and that makes things funnier and sadder and more powerful ultimately. Here, it's all about the slapstick. As Lloyd the director observed, it's all about 'doors, sardines and boxes'. A story on the roles we play, our Shakespearean 'entrances and exits' may have been touching, but it's all too literal here.
Noises Off, the Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0HH, from £17.25. Until 4 January 2020
Last Updated 07 October 2019