Noises Off at the Lyric Hammersmith: ‘pulls back the curtain and shows the farcical mundanity of the acting life’

They say never meet your heroes, but I say never see behind a theatre set. Compared to the often meticulously detailed and designed set, with varying textures and colours galore, the sparse wooden skeleton and plain sheets of wood offer neither glitz nor glamour. Noises Off likewise pulls back the curtain and shows the farcical mundanity of the acting life.

A company of theatrical types – the alcoholic, the ‘luvvie’, the I-need-a-reason-to-walk-through-the-door actor – are meant to be putting on a production of Nothing On, a bedroom farce which is about to embark on a UK tour. Yet from the show’s opening, mistakes are made and director Lloyd Dallas (Lloyd Owen) has to painfully guide the actors through their roles. 

It’s amazing really that Michael Frayn’s play, first performed at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1982, manages to present the same first act of Nothing On three times – during rehearsals, behind the scenes and at a final performance in Stockton – and each time it feels fresh and hilarious. Director Jeremy Herrin has clearly produced a tightly choreographed and rehearsed production.

This is, of course, a farcical production. Max Jones’s set has doors leading to who knows where and characters enter the scene at lightning speed and talk even faster. Combined with the frequent examples of miscommunication and physical comedy, there’s plenty here to keep you laughing throughout the whole show. 

Debra Gillet, Daniel Rigby and Meera Syal in Noises Off.

Somewhat confusingly, however, with such a production it can be difficult to tell where the bad performances in the play end and where the good performances of the actual actors begins. As the overly occupied and caring actress calling everyone ‘darling’, Debra Gillet was wonderful, as was Lois Chimimba as stage manager Poppy. Owen also does well especially early on to contrast the demanding pressures of being a director with the support and care creatives within the theatre industry show to one another.

Meera Syal, who opens the show as Dotty Otley, the cleaner in Nothing On, however hasn’t been able to completely get her head around the physical comedy of her role. Her relationship with Garry (Daniel Rigby) also does not quite come through.

Regardless, all the cast of Noises Off must be applauded for their intensely physical performances. The second scene, where we see behind the stage, is almost all silent and reliant on movement – Joyce Henderson’s choreography is slick and efficient (though one wonders if too much of both). 

Compared with the more modern The Play That Goes WrongNoises Offcan feel dated, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable evening out at the theatre. Granted if my final performance was at Stockton there’s little doubt I too would go insane and try to kill fellow cast members – such is the power of theatre to reveal our true human nature.  

3.5/5

Noises Off is at the Lyric Hammersmith until 27th July, 2019.

Photograph credit: Helen Maybanks.


Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL and is the Theatre editor for London Student. His interests include theatre adaptation, early modern drama, classical myths made modern and all things eighteenth century. For more information please contact: anthony.walker-cook.17@ucl.ac.uk @AntWalker_Cook

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