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Noises Off

a Farce
by Michael Frayn

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 2817

SHOWING : May 03, 2008 - June 01, 2008



Noises Off is a behind the scenes British comedy about an ill-fated production chock full of hilarious twists including the set.

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Schticks and Giggles
by Dedalus
Thursday, June 12, 2008
“Noises Off” may well be an actor-proof show. This is ironic considering how difficult it is to perform, how the logistics of props and sets could stymie an MIT valedictorian, and how the cast needs the stamina of Olympiads to pull it off.

The Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville recently closed its spry mounting, and, even though it was my fifth exposure to the show (including two I worked on), it was still amazingly energetic, still addictively laugh-inducing, and, surprisingly, surprising at times. There was business here I’d never seen before, ideas that fit the ‘80’s-era script as easily as last year’s hit, and performances that found opportunities for over-the-top-iosity that were original, flamboyant, and entirely enjoyable.

For the un-initiated, Act One gives us the final Dress Rehearsal of a tired old Sex Comedy called “Nothing On” that is about to “tour the provinces.” The cast is living out a soap opera, the props have minds of their own, the director has his mind more on his next gig, and every eccentricity is thrown into the mined arena for a winner-takes-all fight to the death. During the first intermission, the set is turned around, we see a performance well into the tour, with backstage antics more frantic and desperate than anything onstage. Finally, the set turns around again, and we’re given the disaster-riddled result of weeks on the road, when everything that can goes wrong goes incredibly disastrous.

To my mind, and, no doubt, for anyone else who loves the theatre, this is one of the funniest plays about the theatre ever produced. Which of us can’t recognize these types – the diva, the vacant starlet, the overbearing director, the over-exhausted tech guy, the over-innocent stage manager, the over-gossipy mother-hen, the over-insecure actor, the over-inebriated veteran? I can’t say I have seen them all together in one production before, but it’s certainly easy to believe that this would be the result.

If I have one complaint about this production, it’s that some of the cast fell back on old personal schtick that seem out of their “bag of tricks” rather than rising spontaneously from character. That it was really funny schtick mitigated the effect, but it did give a veneer of been-there seen-that superficiality that sometimes undercut the originality of the staging and characterization. All this being said, I have to give special props to Veronika Duerr who gave Stage Manager Poppy many character traits I’d never seen before, Sally Robertson who was almost unrecognizable and totally hysterical as the gossipy Belinda/Flavia, and Megan Hayes who was funny and sexy as the vacant Brooke/Vicki – it’s amazing how hot and erotic she could make a simple search for a contact lens! I could go on, but, well … you know. The others in the cast (Jill Hames, Matt Brady, Jeff McKerley, Robert Egizio, Eric Brooks, and Bobby Labartino) maintained a superhuman level of energy and comic invention. This is some of the best ensemble work I’ve seen this year.

Back to my original point, how the heck can this incredibly difficult show be considered “actor-proof?” The simple fact is that most of the humor is based on things going wrong. If an actor misses a line, or a prop, or an entrance, who would know? If bad timing causes a disaster of fatal proportions, how long would the audience laugh before realizing an actor has been seriously hurt? If a misplaced plate of sardines makes the cast struggle to get back “on book,” it could actually add laughs. As an example, in one of the productions I was involved in (and, many years later, I still have bruises and PTSD nightmares from it), we were blocking the “axe” sequence from Act Two, a sequence of extended high farce that relies on split-second timing to work. One of the actors (who shall remain nameless but was not me) was a heavy “method man” and couldn’t understand why he was giving the axe to the person he was required to. His solution was “I can make it work if you let me ‘take a moment.’” If I were directing, this is probably when I’d reach for the valium (or shotgun), but our director let him “have his moment.” Guess what? The sequence still worked. Not as well as it should have, perhaps, but enough to get a laugh at every performance.

Anyway, all of this is gratuitous and moot, since Aurora’s mounting has unmounted, the cast is having some rest and recuperation (I hope), and all we have left are those strange giggling moments when a random memory crosses our mind, to the confusion of everyone around us. To paraphrase Mr. McKerley’s Gary, “I have reviewed many shows that were hits, and many that were bombs, many comedies that never soared, and many dramas that should have been ignored. But, I have never reviewed a production that was so … so ... You Know!”

May the sardines be with you!

-- Brad Rudy (



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