Farce to be reckoned with

Noises Off
PLAY | NOISES OFF | MTC

Review by Penny Mulvey

In need of an escape from icy winds and grey skies? Despairing over the tedious headlines relating to Turnbull/Abbott/Pyne/Shorten/[insert name here]? Unable to crack a smile over the latest tweet from the White House?

Perhaps a tonic is required. A trip to Tahiti or Hawaii or some other tropical location might be the answer, but there are cheaper alternatives.

Right now the Melbourne Theatre Company has the perfect antidote. Michael Frayn’s 1980s play, Noises Off, is making lots of noise at the Arts Centre until mid-August, but it comes with a caveat. It is not suitable for those allergic to laughter.

This slapstick farce – overflowing with comedic moments – is just what the doctor ordered for the mid-winter blues.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it revolves around the last rehearsal culminating in the final performance of a light-hearted sex comedy, filled with sight gags and slapstick humour. But, like any workplace or social setting, there are undercurrents, rumours and pecking orders.

The first act begins benignly enough. The scene is a lounge room, with lots of doors, both upstairs and down, a sofa, a side table, a phone. A phone rings. A woman enters stage left to answer. She is dressed as a rather rumpled elderly English housemaid. She balances a plate of sardines and a newspaper, as she speaks into the phone. She is slightly confused. She misses her lines. And a kindly disembodied voice calls her name – “Dotty”.

From that moment, the rehearsal unravels like a trainwreck in slow motion. The voice is that of the director Lloyd Dallas (Simon Burke) whose syrupy patience eventually dries up and snaps as his mediocre cast argues the toss over both the script and the direction.

The cardinal rule of live production is silence when not on set. The second act reveals the hidden underbelly of live theatre – the back stage. As the action continues on stage, the audience becomes the observer to the seething, jealous, broken-hearted, out of control ‘actors’ whose private lives have collided with their professional.

The farce moves up several notches to mayhem, conducted without sound but with constant movement, mime and extraordinary physical timing.

Noises Off is hysterical. The cast – Simon Burke, Ray Chong Nee, Emily Goddard, Libby Munro, Hugh Parker, James Saunders, Louise Siversen, Steven Tandy and Nicky Wendy – bounce off each other (literally) with delightful energy.

It is a play which does not need deep analysis. It is not political satire. It is not filled with deep psychological angst. It is not about dysfunctional families. It does, however, require extraordinary attention by the cast. Every door slam, plate of sardines, box, bag or dress has to be ‘just so’ at just the right time or the play will come unstuck …as it does!

Go and see it. You won’t regret it. A perfect tonic (ever so briefly) for the seriousness of our world.

Noises Off is playing at the MTC until 8 August

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