Archive for July, 2013

Noises Off

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Woody Allen once wrote a comic piece about visiting a mime performance and despairing at his inability to understand what was going on whilst all around him the audience roared with laughter. I felt a bit like Woody Allen as I tried to fully enjoy Noises Off at the Grand Theatre Leeds last night.

I did enjoy certain aspects of the play – the athleticism of David Bark-Jones as Garry (he even does a pratfall down a flight of stairs), the distracting curves of Thomasin Rand as Brooke, the clever play on plays by the author Michael Frayn and the sheer professionalism of the whole cast, but I knew that what I enjoyed was only a fraction of what I could have feasted on. What I really needed was a film of the play with perfect sound and a remote to rewind the furiously fast sequences – because it was incredibly fast paced. And here lies the problem; none of the actors were amplified in any way and so a lot of the best line were lost in the breathless frenzy. Part of the problem was that once a cracking line had been delivered the laughter from the front of the audience obscured the line for those of us further back in the audience. Or perhaps my hearing isn’t so good.

Over time these missing bits of vital information about the plot derailed my understanding of the second act which literally and visually, takes place behind the scenery of the ‘actual’ play. As the off stage actors have to maintain silence whilst the ‘actual’ play is being performed, the incredibly involved personal interactions between the actors are mostly mimed and I was in my confounded Woody Allen element – who was jealous of whom, who else needed the alcohol hidden from them, why were various people fighting and over what?

The final act is in front of the scenery again and it is the performance of the ‘actual’ play where everything goes disastrously wrong. What struck me about the whole premise of farce is that the suspension of disbelief can be maintained to such er, farcical levels. Some of the scenes were so far removed from any universe of reality that I actually asked myself ‘why am I going along with this make-believe?’ I can only assume that the exuberance of the performers was such that it was impossible not to subscribe to their version of reality.

This is not a play that you can just go and see and expect to get full value for money for, you have to study it first; it works on so many levels and the action on stage is so dense that you can’t take it all in with one visit. I suspect the real joy of this play is in seeing different productions of it and finding something new in it with each viewing.

The full house demonstrated that this might be the case or perhaps its sheer reputation preceded it – indeed, that was why I wanted to see it – and for many people it was their first time in seeing it, so my few quibbles about being hopelessly lost in the plot isn’t going to make any difference to its popularity.