“Noises Off,” the 1982 play by Michael Frayn, shows the comedy of what happens on- and offstage during the production of a play. The play has three acts. In the first act, the audience is shown the last day of rehearsal for the play within the play, “Nothing On.” In the second, we see the pantomimed performances backstage during the inner play. In the third, “Nothing On” falls apart.
“Noises Off” is an intimate, farcical look at not only what it takes to put on a play, but the relationships and nonsense that occur behind the scenes.
The play itself is a strange one. Act one feels so aggressive in nature that the audience found it hard to laugh. This is largely not the fault of the actors, but still, something about act one felt off. This act was the longest, the jokes disjointed and the story slow, with the staging adding to the awkwardness as cast members were placed in the audience. While this breaking of the fourth wall might be fine in some instances, it made the play seem campy.
The second act is truly where the play shines. Because the actors are running on and off the stage to perform in the play within the play, everything the characters do for large swaths of time is mouthed and mimed to each other. The audience couldn’t help but laugh at all the physical comedy performed during this section –– seeing actors swinging plastic axes and stomping on flowers as their fellow actors are loudly delivering their lines offstage was a joy.
The third act falls somewhere in between the first and second in terms of enjoyment, as the mistakes the characters make onstage incite both laughter and, at times, frustration.
The actors were very well-cast for their roles and did a quality job of switching between their main characters in “Noises Off” and the roles their characters played in “Nothing On.” While the actors switch from role to role throughout the play, the feat is most impressive in the third act, where the unravelling of the plot of “Nothing On” leads to the actors switching from their characters playing a role to the characters themselves. In the second act, when the actors are only playing their characters, it is a treat to see them all interact with each other with a passion not mastered in act one.
BareStage Productions did a phenomenal job with set design. The main set pieces are rotated twice throughout the play, and the theme of “behind-the-scenes” was enhanced by the fact there is no curtain in the Choral Rehearsal Hall, so the audience gets to see the sets being flipped around and all the characters in costume resetting the stage for acts two and three.
“Noises Off” was an enjoyable experience, if not an exceptional one. Most of the jokes landed, and everyone involved looked like they were enjoying themselves, but there was nothing overly incredible about the play as a whole. This could be blamed in part on the source material, but it also should be noted that perhaps an American college-aged audience isn’t the group most intrigued by a portrayal of a ragtag group of actors putting on a British sex farce.
This play is best designed for people who love theater. Those who have been backstage and know the antics that happen there will probably thoroughly enjoy “Noises Off” and its comedic depiction of life as an actor. For those without a knowledge or love of the theater, this play will likely be entertaining, if not incredibly memorable. This is not to say that this play was bad — throughout the performance the audience was laughing. Simply put, Frayn’s intended audience for “Noises Off” is maybe not the audience that BareStage has at Cal.
This was an amusing show that just didn’t seem to have its audience in mind. While the audience was entertained for the two-and-change hours they sat there, it is likely there won’t be much critical thought given to “Noises Off” in the days following the performance. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with just seeing art to have a good time, and for that, “Noises Off” is well-equipped.
“Noises Off” is playing Oct. 13-22 at the Choral Rehearsal Hall in the Cesar Chavez Student Center at UC Berkeley. Tickets can be purchased here.
Contact Sydney Rodosevich at [email protected].