Theatre-going: Noises Off

Noises Off is a classic farce with many doors opening and closing, zippy dialogue and a sometimes confusing but funny mess of lots of simultaneous physical comedy.

It takes a play-within-a-play structure and focuses on the carry on behind the scenes of a production of a farce called Nothing On. This is a bog-standard farce with all of your typical farce ingredients, the aforementioned calvacade of opening and closing doors, coincidences, mistaken identity, bothersome props (a plate/s of sardines in this case), an attractive woman who spends most of her time in her lingerie and a man with his trousers down around his ankles.

We take a step back to see this firstly as a dress rehearsal, complete with actors stuffing up and questioning their motivations, then from backstage as a matinee a few weeks in to the season and finally from front of house as an evening performance right at the end of the season. (By which time, things have completely gone to pot).

After the first act I'd had a few smiles (particularly having done a little theatre in my day) but wasn't guffawing like most of the audience (largely comprised it seemed of the silver-haired set) but as the second and third acts progressed and the whole production descended into impressively organised chaos I found it funnier and funnier. I also grew more and more impressed with both the writing and the talent of the performers (and director) to manage such a complex amount of stage "business" and overlapping plotlines and dialogue. I'd be quite surprised if anyone stayed still for more than 20 seconds at a time in the final act.

I must admit that I've never seen a farce performed before - I've seen farcical elements in film (most commonly the doors trick - one person exits a door just as another enters another door taken to ridiculous extremes) but I had some idea of what it was all about but now really feel as though I haven't been giving the genre (or perhaps it's just this particular play) it's due.

Bravo to the Canberra Rep and to the writer for getting it so right.

Noises Off is playing at Theatre 3 until Friday - definitely worth checking out.

More details on their website here

One of the things I was wondering (being the multimedia type that I am) during the performance, particularly given the chaos and the plotlines and physical comedy being played out often simultaneously, was how it would translate to film.

Rapid cutting seemed the obvious option but perhaps a little too structured - too focussed on drawing attention to each individual act of madness at the expense of losing the sense of overall mayhem. Some kind of split screen approach (possibly up to four screens, Timecode (Mike Figgis 2000) style.

Apparently there is already a film version available, directed by Peter Bogdanovich (1992) that I might just have to check out.

Update - Good ole YouTube comes through once more (to a degree) with a clip from a (significantly) lesser production of Noises Off which will nonetheless give you some idea of some of the dynamics of the play.

This is taken from the final act where the whole performance has completely lost it - cues are being missed, props are missing or just wrong, performers are at each others throats, some try to improvise their way out of the mess while others just stick steadfastly to their assigned lines