A Noise Within is bringing back its popular production of Noises Off for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it two weekend run at the company’s new theater in Pasadena. And this is a show worth driving to see.
A Noise Within is a company of professional actors who rehearse and perform together repeatedly in a rotating repertoire of plays, and such an emphasis on company unity is particularly valuable in an ensemble piece like Noises Off. There is no stand-out performance here, and there need not be. Everyone is working to make everyone else look good and that selflessness (inherently rare to the sometimes ostentatious medium of theatre) leads to one well-oiled machine of an ensemble piece.
The play, a 1982 comedy by Michael Frayn, follows a frustrated director, his beleaguered cast and his exhausted crew as they struggle to put on a sex farce called Nothing On. Each of the three acts of Noises Off is comprised of a different performance of the laughably idiotic play-within-a-play: First, on the eve of opening night, a dress rehearsal rife with forgotten lines and botched cues; second, a matinée nearly ruined by the dysfunctional company’s backstage rivalries; and finally the climax, in which the production extravagantly collapses.
Noises Off is essentially the same show performed three times. As a result,it relies more on physical comedy than wordplay for its humor, unlike most plays. Actors in this show have to rely on each other rather than hide behind a clever script. Thanks to the careful comic choreography of directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott, and to their talented cast’s easy finesse, the play’s original hilarity gleams unaltered.
Take, for example, the show’s second act, in which the set is rotated 180 degrees so we can see the characters feuding backstage during a performance. It’s an easy scene to screw up. Although we can hear Nothing On in the background, almost all the main action is happening with zero dialogue. The act’s humor depends fully on well-timed physical gags.
The actors in this production rise to this challenge, scurrying, stumbling and tumbling with the graceful ease crucial for being convincingly clumsy. In other words, everything goes wrong in just the right way.
One minor gripe — the cast’s British accents are more than a little suspect. Geoff Elliott, for instance, who plays director Lloyd Dallas, seems to have cribbed his Cockney directly from Michael Caine, who played Lloyd in the 1992 film adaptation. Whereas in some American productions of Noises Off the play’s characters are Americans who feign British accents for the stage, in A Noise Within’s rendition, they are English both on and off stage. Though certainly more faithful to Frayn, this directorial choice makes the off stage action feel a little phony. But that is a miniscule flaw relative to the overall top-notch quality of the acting here.
Noises Off is an important, funny and beautiful play because it illustrates the core silliness of life. If the set is a division between the real world (backstage) and the theatre (on-stage), then the set’s rotation signifies that the worlds are basically interchangeable.
As Noises Off progresses, the planes become less and less distinguishable until they finally coalesce into one absurd spectacle. Noises Off makes a simple statement about life as it celebrates the farcical reality of backstage drama, surely familiar to anyone who has worked in theater, and does so in a manner more absurd than any comedy we could possibly dream up.
The folks at A Noise Within have definitely done a wonderful job of conveying that absurdity. This is a great production of an equally great play, wholly recommendable to anyone in the Los Angeles area who loves a good show or needs a good laugh.