“Noises Off”: a lesson in controlled chaos

‘Complex’ does not begin to describe “Noises Off”. This Intricately convoluted masterpiece, is a 3 act play within a play, giving audiences an inside view of how theater magic is made. Though plays involving a behind the scenes aspect is not exactly original (see Rep’s “Duets” 2010), ‘Noises Off’ is uniquely quaint in that it shows all the drama that can happen behind the scenes.

Act 1 begins at a dress rehearsal for the British play ‘Nothing On’. It is late in the evening, the actors are tired, and the director is at his wits end as the show has all the characteristics of an impending disaster. Absent minded Dotty Otty (playing Mrs. Clackett) keep forgetting her props, contrarian Garry Lejeune (playing Roger Tramplemain) who is also romantically involved with Dotty, keeps interrupting the director Lloyd Dallas with inane inquires. Adding to this eccentric cast is Frederick Fellowes (playing Philip Brent), a loveable dimwit who was recently left by his wife, & Brooke Ashton (playing Vicki) who loses her contact lenses at the most inopportune moments. The cherry on the ice cream is Selsdon Mowbray (playing the burglar); a recovering alcoholic who forgets his entrance cues.

Noises Off poster by Repertory Philippines
Noises Off poster by Repertory Philippines

The first act is basically an exposition on the actor’s backgrounds & the plot of ‘Nothing On’, which is a comedy about a real estate agent pretending to show off a house to a prospective client, when in actuality he really wants the house to himself for an illicit rendezvous with tax agent Vicky. Unfortunately, the owners of the house, Philip Brent & wife Flavia, return from a trip abroad. They narrowly avoid each other, thru sheer coincidence with only the housekeeper aware of both couples presence. After awhile, they sense that something is wrong but still try to avoid each other (Roger & Vicki thinking something paranormal is afoot, while Philip & Flavia are trying to evade imaginary tax collectors). By sheer happenstance, all people in the house not only elude each other but also a burglar, which towards the end is revealed to be the long lost father of Vicky, when the entire crew meet in the cheesy climax.

The second act is set behind the scenes of ‘Nothing On’. The company is in a matinee performance & everything that they are worried about is coming to fruition. Dotty & Garry are having a lovers spat when Dotty uses Frederick to make her significant other jealous. Selsdon is missing & is thought by everybody to be off the bandwagon & the Lloyd-Brooke-Poppy love triangle crisis is reaching its culmination. Most of this act is mimed out in a form of a crazy slapstick fueled orgy of comedy. The actors & stagehands attack perceived rivals, make each other envious & sabotage one another’s acts.

If in the second act, the theater production barely hobbled with their presentation, in the third act they grounded into a crawl. Here, even before the curtain opens, chaos ensues, along with hilarity J. Key props are abandoned, lines are forgotten & the actors are forced to ad lib off the cuff. The entire show is barely a shadow of its original self. The show ends with the director & stage assistant alternating for what he thought was a missing Selsdon, so there appear 3 redundant burglars, as the play collapses on itself.

The creativity of the writing cannot be questioned, & is evidenced by the sheer convolutedness the characters entrances & exits. Act 1 might have been wanting in humor, but this elucidation was apparently necessary for the absurdity that follows in the 2nd & 3rd acts. As the play progresses, the acts become shorter & funnier.

Noises Off poster by Repertory Philippines
Noises Off poster by Repertory Philippines

The actors are all trained veterans, majority having appeared in PETA, Atlantis, Trumpets & 9WorkTheatrical productions. One can only imagine the difficulty of being an actor playing an actor playing a character, having to pretend to act onstage & act off stage as well. The mime session during the 2nd act was notable, as it is a practice in organized chaos (entrances & exits on cue & off cue, with & without props J).

Overall, the play provides a good insight behind the scenes of how a play is made, plus some good laughs as a bonus treat. If you adhere to the adage of Murphy’s law, then this show mustn’t be missed.

[stextbox id=”astig”]Noises Off is written by Michael Frayn, directed by Miguel Faustman, & produced by Repertory Philippines. Theatrical run is from March 28 to April 27, Friday to Sunday, Gala shows on Friday & Saturday at 8PM, Matinee shows on Saturday & Sunday at 3:30PM.[/stextbox]

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