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Noises Off | The Lowry, Manchester

PR Invite | Written by Rosie | Photography from The Lowry

In a delirious cycle of choreographed chaos, Noises Off takes its players through an endless mess of misunderstandings, mishaps, and missing sardines. The characters emerge, beaten and baffled, surrounded by burglar costumes, broken sets, and most notably, laughter.

Noises Off follows three iterations of a touring theatre company’s production of ‘Nothing On,’ the fictional play within the play. From rehearsal to stage, romantic rivalries become entangled with enduring failure as everything gradually collapses into mayhem. Its humour relies on embarrassment and exaggeration, although sometimes this veers into the realm of stereotyping and, therefore, alienation.

Of course, the use of stereotypical characterisation is common in comedy, particularly in the pursuit of parody. However, it is difficult to find much humour in the character of Brooke Ashton (although Lisa Ambalavanar’s performance goes a way in righting the flaws in the writing); the key features of the character are her attractiveness, her age, her romantic relationships, and her awkward acting. The character of Dotty Otley (Liza Goddard), in comparison, achieves humour through relative complexity. She is a forgetful older woman, banished by the industry into performing the roles of spinsters or servants. And yet, as one half of a failing relationship with the jealous Garry (Dan Fredenburgh), she is also the catalyst for much of the later conflict. Dotty’s confused line delivery and innocent squabbling is performed endearingly by Goddard, and marks the difference between thoughtful characterisation and unnecessary stereotyping.

The play battles hard in its quest for the audience’s appreciation, and it is (mostly) given willingly. On occasion, however, the play teeters on the edge of unfulfilled potential. While the final act is consistently funny, earlier moments (featuring overdone jokes) lacked the unleashed silliness that earned this success. The play is inherently repetitive, but there is a contrast between the cycle of the narrative – as it gives way to different settings and the different mishaps that stem from them – and the tame repeated gags of act one. A running joke for the character of Garry is his inability to formulate comprehensible sentences; this is funny the first few times, but falls flat in comparison to the visual gags and mishaps that come later. Noises Off is successful in its most chaotic moments: as its silliness exponentially increases, the audience’s laughter follows suit.

Simon Higlett’s set works well as a background to this chaos, changing between acts depending on which angle of the performance we see. As act two focuses on the players’ backstage shenanigans, the set transforms into the back of the theatre. The characters’ entrances and exits – already familiar to us from act one – are placed in the context of this new setting, where each interaction has to be silent and on a time limit (as their performance of ‘Nothing On’ has begun). Comedy is revealed through the choreographed mayhem of Michael Frayn’s script and Lindsay Posner’s direction: the repetition of going up and down stairs, the opening and closing of doors, and the characters moving between performance and ‘reality,’ all contribute to the growing hysteria. Later, as hands sneak out from behind doorways to replace props and masked sounds promise further failings, the play’s comedic success hinges on the interaction between the ‘performance’ itself and what is happening behind the scenes – what can be seen and what remains hidden.

Noises Off is a farcical, slapstick romp. It allows you to fall into the inexplicable comfort of cringe-worthy comedy, and hides careful, well-rehearsed choreography behind a chaotically fun script. It is a face-off against the dreariness of reality. And, judging by the enduring ripples of laughter threading through the audience as the curtain closed, it seems to have won. Catch it at The Lowry until Saturday 21st October, before the show continues its tour of the UK. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

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