Sydney Theatre Company’s Noises Off – A theatre review by Deb Meyer

February 26, 2014 by Deb Meyer
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If the success of farce depends on the audience’s ability to relate to the characters’ predicaments (according to legendary theatre director Richard Cottrell), it’s no wonder Noises Off has been a favourite play amongst actors for many years.

Josh McConville, Ash Ricardo in Sydney Theatre Company’s Noises Off Photo: Brett Boardman

Josh McConville, Ash Ricardo in Sydney Theatre Company’s Noises Off
Photo: Brett Boardman


Written in 1982, Michael Frayn’s play deals with a troupe of B grade English actors and their foibles in rehearsing and performing the play Nothing On – a lame British sex-farce. As the experienced and frustrated director (played by Marcus Graham) laments to his flawed cast, “doors and sardines, that’s what it’s all about… getting the sardines on and getting the sardines off… that’s farce, that’s the theatre…. that’s life!”

As a Cambridge student of philosophy, Frayn certainly recognised the existential complexity in the frustration of performing the same play, as the same character, that never quite goes according to plan. In the lift-out program (of Nothing On) within the program (of Noises Off), Frayn gives a wonderfully witty explanation of the British bedroom farce, allowing us, the audience, to view Noises Off as a farce about a farce.

You’d be forgiven, in the audience, for not viewing the play on quite the same perspicacious platform as Frayn. Fortunately, it can also be viewed as plain ol’ fashioned funny, without expectation of any deeper message, allowing the playfulness, physicality and finesse of the fabulous cast to sweep you along.

The play’s two and a half hour time frame, however, is a long way to be swept up and could do with some editing.

In structure, Noises Off is divided into three Acts: the first sets up the cast of characters, in and out of role in their final rehearsal of the play Nothing On. Doors open and close, actors lines come and go, sardines come on and off. Act two sees the same play performed but this time all from backstage, with the casts’ sidelined shenanigans – love triangles, trip ups of lines and laces (to name a few) and resplendent physical comedy with some hilarious moments. The final Act depicts a later performance of the play, with even further degeneration, resulting in some very funny scenes.

The cast are a supremely talented ensemble – some of Australia’s best, each richly imbuing their quirky characters, in superb British voice, having a rollicking time on stage and hitting their marks (as great actors, playing poor ones, that is), opening and closing doors (8 in total) with military precision. Marcus Graham holds forte as The Director Lloyd, in commanding voice, Genevieve Lemon plays the irreverent Dotty, with comedic prowess at every turn and the indefatiguable veteran Ron Haddrick, who at 84, is a gift to watch. Ash Ricardo, in raunchy underwear through most of the play, is delightfully ditsy, with other joyous performances by highly acclaimed Tracy Mann, Josh McConville, Lindsay Farris, Alan Dukes and Danielle King – all award winning actors.

Directed by Jonathan Biggins, a highly regarded writer, performer and director (of STC Wharf Revues and Australia Day to name a few), his comedic finesse shines at every turn. As one of the funniest performers in the business, with a wealth of comedic knowledge and honed skills, Noises Off is in the most capable of hands.

The costumes by Julie Lynch deserve a special mention, with the 1970’s inspired outfits a stroke of brilliance in bringing an Australian style of bafoonery to the British play. The wigs alone have a supporting role worthy of a Gold Logie. The sets designed by Mark Thompson well depict the cosy living room in a country house and there’s great attention to detail in displaying the sets backstage.

Noises Off is a comedic treat for anyone with an interested in the theatre or those who’ve ever wondered about the backstage or rehearsal antics of the theatre. There are certainly a lot of laughs in this production, but it’s not necessarily for everyone. At the very least, it’s a chance to watch some of the best in the business, with the brilliance of Biggins, taking on a world not often exposed on a Sydney stage.

Whether or not this is your cup o’ tea,

you’ll only know as farce the eye can see…..

Ron Haddrick, Tracy Mann, Alan Dukes in Sydney Theatre Company’s Noises Off       Photo: Brett Boardman

Ron Haddrick, Tracy Mann, Alan Dukes in Sydney Theatre Company’s Noises Off
Photo: Brett Boardman



Noises Off

Presented by Sydney Theatre Company and QANTAS

By Michael Frayn

Director Jonathan Biggins

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

From February 21 until April 5 at 8pm

Bookings or 9250 7777

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