ORLANDO — The farcical comedy Noises Off has a clever premise but a truly ingenious delivery, being presented in three acts that look at different aspects of a play during three stages of production: rehearsal, backstage chatter, and the presentation before an audience. Each one comes off a bit more haphazardly and thus more disastrously than the one before it, which is why it delivers some uproarious laughs.
During the Saturday matinee, I couldn’t help note that the timing is so rapid fire that this production needs a truly first-rate cast of performers to pull it off. Fortunately, the performers in the production opening the fall season at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater are more than capable of delivering. In fact, this production is one of the finest examples I’ve seen in a while of how good an ensemble cast can be.
What is the Comedy Noises Off?
Noises Off is a real treat for anyone who loves the theater, because it creates an ingenious (and quite believable, despite the many exaggerations) look at how the best of intentions can turn so disastrously wrong when even the smallest steps get fumbled. The play by Michael Frayn opens with the cast of a British show in rehearsal, as their director Lloyd barks out instructions and reminders, particularly to actress Dotty Otley who is playing housekeeper Mrs. Clackett, to remember the plate of sardines. The word sardines gets tossed about so many times that the very mention of the word becomes increasingly hilarious.
Little things go wrong, from the actress who keeps losing her contact lens to an actor playing a cat burglar who can’t remember his lines, to yet another actor prone to nose-bleeds. You get the distinct impression that this play may be headed toward disaster.
But you know what? That would be an understatement.
The 50-minute first act, enjoyable silly, transitions into an even more side-splitting 36-minute second act, which shifts to backstage, as we watch the actors grow increasingly irritable and impatient with one another. As they zoom on cue to the stage to perform before a live audience, we get a glimpse of how stage shows take on a life of their own if the actors bring unwelcome baggage to it. (A cactus plant makes a particularly goofy and funny prop.)
But this is nothing compared to the third, 27-minute final act, when we go back to the main set, the curtains rise, and we watch the show being performed. Remember that housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett? The actress Dotty is having a bad day, and she makes a catastrophic boo-boo involving a telephone. When the next actor, Gerry, tries to improvise and fix it, things keep getting more complicated, the actors get farther and farther off script, they all go to wildly moronic means to correct the mistakes. The show is a total bomb — in a riotous way. The third act truly makes the show.
How Was the Orlando Shakes’ Version of Noises Off?
Playing actors who then have to get into character — in a sense, two roles, both distinct — has to be considerably more difficult than it sounds, and as I mentioned, this play moves at such lightning-fast speed that it takes a highly skilled cast of pros to pull it off successfully.
Well, welcome to Orlando Shakes.
The 9-member cast couldn’t possibly have been more carefully selected, and their skill at this type of farcical comedy is impeccable. Anne Hering (Dotty), Brandon Roberts (Garry), Timothy Williams (Lloyd), Trenell Mooring (as actress Belinda) and Philip Nolen ( the burglar) have their timing down pat and each one is a scream to watch, although Roberts’ final bout with the telephone was to me the production’s true piece de resistance, the crowning achievement in absurdist hilarity.
The entire cast was superlative, and kudos as well to director Jim Helsinger for directing a play about a disastrous show that captured the disaster — only it was all so very intentional.
It was a jolly good show to watch.
Where Can I see Noises Off?
Noises Off is being produced at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater at 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. The show runs now through Sept. 25. To learn more or book tickets, call 407-447-1700.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.