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FIRST NIGHT: Noises Off at Cambridge Arts Theatre

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Noises Off, the farce to top all farces by Michael Frayn, was first staged in London’s West End in 1982.

It has been loved by audiences ever since. It’s both an ingenious parody of the actor’s frailties, illusions, and pretensions – and an extreme test of the comic actor’s timing and skill, writes ANGELA SINGER

Happily, in this production at Cambridge Arts Theatre, a stella cast, including Felicity Kendal, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Matthew Kelly are born for these roles. They revel in them.

The entire cast here has precision comic timing and at the same time somehow bring truth to their characters.

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That’s why it works – it’s not just slapstick and an early version of a play-that-goes-wrong – first we meet characters we can believe in.

Noises Off by Michael Frayn ©Nobby Clark nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

We see the actors (in the play within a play) struggling with their roles.

This production is fast, funny, and clever.

The play consists of the actors (in the play within the play) performing the same scene three times,

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Once in the tech rehearsal, once for real but we see it from backstage – and by now because of petty jealousies they are trying to sabotage each other’s performance – and finally we are in the audience again but by now the play has been torn to shreds.

We see the cast concentrating so feverishly on their exits and their entrances they cannot adjust their lines when they no longer match what is happening on stage.

Noises Off by Michael Frayn ©Nobby Clark nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

The play within the play opens in rehearsal with Felicity Kendal’s cleaning lady Dotty Otley, unsure how to cope with answering the telephone at the same time as holding a plate of sardines.

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Overwhelmed, Kendal’s delicious Dotty asks the exasperated director Lloyd Dallas (a wonderfully erudite and supercilious Alexander Hanson) if she has her lines right. He replies sardonically: “Some of them have a very familiar ring.”

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When Jonathan Coy’s sensitive actor Frederick keeps asking why his character does things. Lloyd sighs and says archly: “All my studies in world drama are at your disposal.”

Tracy-Ann Oberman is an absolute joy as the “giving” actress, never without a flourishing and exaggerated gesture, who tries to overcome the gaffs and the gaps left by the others and their numerous anxieties.

Meanwhile Matthew Kelly is the seasoned old ham who gets drunk, goes missing, is late with his entrances and can’t be relied upon to remember what he is supposed to do or say.

Noises Off by Michael Frayn ©Nobby Clark nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

All the characters are believable, Joseph Millson is a real treat as the handsome leading man, Garry Lejeune. Sasha Frost as his love interest, glamour girl Brooke and Pepter Lunkuse as stage assistant Poppy have plenty of well-executed comic moments.

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Hubert Burton as stagehand, Tim, almost upstages the rest of the cast early on just fixing a door handle.

The first act of this play is intellectually clever, the second and third acts are slapstick, falling about and going in and out of doors.

All of it requires a lot of deftness, acrobatics, character work and skill. It’s all here in joyous amounts from a versatile cast. Directed by Lindsay Posner with a gorgeous set by Simon Higlett and exemplary performances, the audience was in raptures.

A great night out.

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Review by Angela Singer

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