Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
By Michael Frayn
Directed by Dave McIntosh
This play, first performed in 1982, is described as a farce. It would more properly be called a lunatic satire. Most of the elements of farce are missing. As Dave McIntosh points out in the program notes, the characters are weak, the situation is stupid and there is no real plot or story. Noises Off is an elaborately constructed theatrical joke.
Each of the three scenes contains the first Act of a performance of a play within a play, one of those lewd British comedies called Nothing On. Typically, men lose their trousers and fall downstairs while pretty girls appear in revealing lingerie. Doors open and close, and plates of sardines appear and disappear.
In Frayn’s version, the cast forget or ad-lib their lines, the director is close to a nervous breakdown and the play ends in chaos. He also has the clever idea of showing Act 1 of Nothing On from backstage in the second scene. This presents a challenge to the design and construction team, who have created an extraordinary two-story set.
Given the craziness of the material, Dave McIntosh and his cast attack the play at a furious pace. They all perform remarkably well and the sight jokes are very slick. No one was injured so far as I can tell. Wayne Willis Waterman, who recently appeared in Proof, was suitably exhausted and sarcastic as the long-suffering director. Meanwhile Suki O’Brien, in her first appearance at LLT, has a great time as “Dotty” forgetting her props and leaving plates of sardines on or off stage. “Garry” is the leading man of Nothing On and is very serious about understanding his part. In “real life” he is incapable of finishing a sentence.
Mark Donaldson is excellent in the role – his English accent is impeccable. Pamela Johnson is wonderfully absent-minded as “Brooke” who is constantly losing one of her contact lenses. She spends a lot of the play decorating the stage in sexy girdle and stockings. Keith Donner plays shy “Freddie” who has a serious fear of violence and blood, both of which give him nosebleeds. Keith, another newcomer to LLT, does well and survives the play.
Linda Freeman plays “Belinda” who is the only normal person amidst the dramatic chaos, while Fred Koesling has a lot of fun as the alcoholic “Selsdon” who plays a burglar when he can remember which window to break in through. A talented cast is rounded out by two more newcomers, Donna Burroughs and Taylor Shouldice, as the overworked “Stage Manager” and “Assistant Stage Manager,” respectively.
Dave McIntosh and his team have pulled off a remarkable tour de force staging this comedy. However, I wonder how audiences at Lakeside will respond to this level of British wackiness, and some of the theatrical in-jokes may have got lost in the shuffle. Congratulations to Ruth Kear for designing a truly remarkable set, and also to the entire construction crew. Win McIntosh was Stage Manager and her Assistants were Jeff Kingsbury and Christine Bott. Next up is Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, which opens on January 11.
Column: Front Row Center
Michael Warren grew up in London, England and lived on Baker Street very close to where Sherlock Holmes hung out his shingle. He graduated with an Honors degree in Mathematics from King’s College, Cambridge, which no doubt helps him to balance his check book. While a student, he edited a humorous magazine entitled “ffobia” which was widely circulated amongst his friends.