Five Pound Theatre kick off their repertory season with UK playwright Micheal Frayn's hilarious über-farce Noises Off, a farce within a farce and then some (the title refers to noises off-stage). Frayn famously wrote the play in 1982 after watching a performance of an earlier work of his, The Two of Us, from the wings and realising that what was going on backstage was funnier than the business out front. He revised it in 2000 and this production throws in a handful of Melbourne zest with cheeky references to the local indie theatre scene. Noises Off is a theatre lover's play, one of the funniest shows ever and enormously complicated with enough subtext to sink the Hesperus.
The first act sees a woefully unprepared cast puddling their way through the dress rehearsal of a trite farce called Nothing On. You can't imagine they'll ever pull the show off. In the 'top' play the cast are playing mad versions of themselves directed by director Jason Kavanagh. Actual Stage Manager Sharon and Owl and Pussycat's bar tender, Collin, are press-ganged into emergency roles as the production collapses on itself. Noises Off comes in three acts, the first is the slap-sticked dress rehearsal with so many interruptions everyone's sanity is completely compromised, the second act is set behind the curtains and goes right off, and the third act is back to the 'front' where things become downright psychotic.
The cast is involved in some tricky personal dynamics: jealous rage, sexual tension and rivalry lead to a gigantic emotional and physical meltdown, the plot falls down a well while the set falls apart and everyone has to ad lib while trying to protect themselves from sabotage. How the actors keep control of this is truly impressive. The slapstick and physical comedy is divinely chaotic and nerve-wrackingly dangerous as the performers are so close to the front row in the small theatre space. Tim Wotherspoon is incredible as an increasingly tormented actor playing slimy real estate agent, Roger. Everyone else is excellent and the ensemble acting is just terrific all round. Freya Pragt is fabulous as Mrs Clackett the housekeeper and Lelda Kapsis is dangerously subtle as Flavia. Keith Brockett is always superb, a joy to see onstage; he just needs to say one word and you're laughing, here he's plays an aging Irish cat burgler/ cum coke fiend. You have to see this.
Noises Off gets funnier and funnier and is wildly satisfying. There's heartbreak, passive aggression, aggression aggression and downright murderousness shoving spikes in the 'show' until it gives a final bellow and falls over. It's the tightest script imaginable yet the mayhem is furious and when you think it's gone too far it explodes. For a 'just entertain me' night of theatre you cannot beat this. Bravo Five Pound!
5pounds Theatre presents
by Michael Frayn
Directed by Jason Cavanagh
Venue: The Owl and the Pussycat | 34 Swan Street, Richmond VIC
Dates: 12 – 16 November, 2013