“Noises Off is a glorious opportunity to watch seven slamming doors, one breaking window, 10 trips up and down stairs and 17 false entrances, while listening to 73 flubbed lines, 46 miscues, one dramatic highlight, 22 double entendres, 6 regular entendres and a million laughs all while trying to find a missing plate of sardines.”
Okay, I stole that quote from another program but it beautifully spells out the show. Noises Off has been called the funniest farce ever written. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but not much of one. The show has also been done by virtually every professional and amateur theater company in the English speaking world. And it has been made into a movie. All of this might be both good and bad for this show.
Before the show I heard various audience members saying things like, “How many times have you seen it?” And after the show I heard comments like, “They changed a lot of lines from the way we did it.” Instead of just enjoying it, they were comparing it to other productions. Considering that and “the funniest farce” put a whale of a burden on the director and actors. I’m going to review only this performance.
Noises Off is non-stop action. Its pacing and frenetic blocking leaves the actors with little time to breathe! A problem here is that, while learning all the intricacies, it’s easy to forget to develop a character.
For the most part the Theatre Arlington cast establishes solid beginnings for their characters.
Especially strong are: Krista Scott (Dotty), who makes us believe her “dotty” character is real. Not an easy task. Mikaela Krantz (Brooke) who rides her character hilariously throughout. Her solo seduction in Act 3 is worth the price of the ticket! Brad Stephens (Frederick) who continually says, “I see that,” when we all know he doesn’t. And how often do you laugh at someone with a nose bleed? Eric Dobbins (Tim) who tugs at our sympathy as he is being run ragged by the actors.
Sherry Hopkins (Belinda) has the double duty of being funny (her dazzling smile accomplishes that) and carrying what little serious stuff that does happen. Somehow she pulls it off. I think, as the show matures and the actors get more comfortable with their scenes, the pacing and the character development will settle in. Hopefully, this will be especially true for Michael James (Selsdon). In the opening night performance he latches on to a stereotype drunk and plays that one level throughout. His credits in the program lead one to believe he’s capable of much better work.
One cannot see Noises Off without mentioning the set. In 1970, Author Michael Frayn was watching one of his plays backstage and realized that it was much funnier back there. In 1980, Noises Off was the result.
Happily, Theatre Arlington has a revolve on its stage so it’s relatively simple to turn the set around. I especially like the fact that they waited until Act 2 began to turn it around. Jack Hardaway’s set is simple and direct. At least it gives that impression. All doors and stairs, facilitating the action without distracting from it. I was a little concerned that the stairs didn’t have an outside railing, knowing that Gary would have to tumble down those steps in Act 3. Shane Beeson took the fall impressively, to the delighted applause of the audience.
Meredith Hinton’s costumes truly represent the characters; the stuffy are stuffy, the casual are casual and no one will forget (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) Brooke’s lingerie. And Shelbie Mac’s bottles and sardines are right where they ought to be – or are they?
Director Andy Baldwin has done a workman-like job of directing traffic, and has even thrown in a couple of good bits of his own. Again, as with the actors, so much attention is paid to crazy blocking, everything else slides a bit. I believe, the hands of this able cast, the show will tighten and grow as it runs. For sure, as it stands right now, it is a delightful way to spend an evening or afternoon at the theater.
Reviewed by Grant James
Associate Theater Critic
John Garcia’s THE COLUMN