On the afternoon of my trip to London to review Noises Off I was in a dentist’s chair having a dodgy filling replaced with a lot of noisy drilling.
A few hours later – in a stroke of comic timing of which surely the play’s author Michael Frayn would have been proud – the effect of the anaesthetic wore off just as I took my seat at the Garrick Theatre.
I went from not being able to feel half my face to feeling like I’d been whacked in the mouth by a well-aimed plate of sardines.
By coincidence, it’s a plate of sardines that causes no end of mayhem in Frayn’s intricately constructed meta-comedy about a theatre company putting on an old-school, trousers-down farce called Nothing On.
Over three acts we get to see the play in rehearsal, then witness it from a backstage point of view and finally in a disastrous live performance.
Jeremy Herrin’s gloriously funny production opened at the Lyric Hammersmith in June – the theatre where Noises Off was first seen in 1982. (Interestingly, Frayn conceived the idea for Noises Off backstage at the Garrick, some 12 years earlier, while watching a performance of his play The Two of Us.)
This West End transfer features some of the same cast, including Meera Syal as the show’s star Dotty Otley, Lloyd Owen as its sarcastic director, Simon Rouse as sozzled actor Selsdon and Daniel Rigby as awkward leading man Garry Lejeune. Among the new faces on board is Miranda’s Sarah Hadland.
Frayn’s play both sends up actors and their fragile egos and celebrates their “show must go on” attitude in the face of chaos. Its genius comes in the choreography of that chaos – particularly in the second act where the frantic backstage bickering takes place in silence as the play continues out front.
Herrin’s cast work superbly well together to bring all this off so successfully. I particularly enjoyed Lisa McGrillis’s performance as Brooke, the actress who keeps losing her contact lenses as well as her clothes, and Adrian Richards’ hassled stage manager Tim. And Rigby’s spectacular prat-fall down a flight of stairs surely deserves some kind of award.
Two hours after curtain up I suddenly realised I’d forgotten completely about my troublesome tooth. Proof, if it were needed, that laughter is the best medicine.
Noises Off is at the Garrick Theatre until 4 January 2020