Rychard Carrington reports on Noises Off at Cambridge Arts Theatre 8 April 2013

Noises Off
Cambridge Arts Theatre


It was splendid to be back in a comfy seat in the theatre again. Drama has played such a rich and fascinating role in human culture throughout the world for so many centuries, and now here I was in the second row of the Circle at the delightful Cambridge Arts Theatre, watching some. Tonight it was a comedy: what is it, one wonders, that causes human beings to laugh? What is humour's function in psychology and culture? Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a poem not in favour of it, but most of us, myself included, are glad of humour's existence, and pleased to be part of an audience for it. Tonight's opening performance (the first night of six) was almost sold out.


Noises Off isn't merely comedy, it's farce: an ancient and humbly noble tradition within comedy. How does modern Britain do live farce? Well, despite a central element of reflexivity, this very popular play, actually written by Michael Frayn in 1982, is refreshingly free of postmodern irony and other over-familiar contemporary characteristics. The humour is upfront and unquestioning. Farce of course, doesn't sound funny in precis: all the reader needs to know here is that this farce is actually about the production of a theatrical farce. Much of the humour involves the interaction of the play-within-the-play with the play-not-within-the -play. The play-not-within-the-play doesn't really satirise the farce of the play-within-the-play, but adds an extra dimension to it, remaining true to the spirit of farce while producing a particularly clever and hence particularly funny one. Convolution, thus, produces refreshingly simple but winning humour. Everyone laughed a lot, and there were wild cheers at the end.


Amusement merged with admiration for the skill of the writng, combined with the skill of the acting and production in delivering the script's potential with complete success. The Old Vic production, directed by Lindsay Posner, is on tour following a successful run at the Old Vic and in the West End. The touring cast (completely different from the London ones) of David Bark-Jones, Maureen Beattie, Simon Bubb, Danielle Flett, Geoffrey Freshwater, Neil Pearson, Thomasin Rand and Sasha Waddell performed their demanding roles magnificently, displaying prevision, verve and perfect timing to create spot-on humour about a diegetic lack of these. You should go and see it.  


Writer: Rychard Carrington