TR Robertson — It’s chaotic, loud, silly, quickly paced and above all, absolutely hilarious. This will be your first impressions of Lamb’s Players Theatre’s latest play, “Noises Off”. Written by English playwright Michael Frayn and premiering at the Lyric Theatre in London in 1982, “Noises Off” is a farcical play within a play. Frayn said the idea came to him when he watched another play he had written from the wings and decided the action behind the scenes was funnier than what was happening on stage. The result was a one act play, “Exits”, which would later be expanded into “Noises Off”, a play that has tremendous time making fun of actors, directors, the crew, playwrights and the audience.
Photos by Chris Turner
“Noises Off” was nominated for 4 Tony Awards and 4 Drama Desk Awards after it opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 1983. It would be made into a film in 1992, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Carol Burnett, John Ritter and Christopher Reeve. The Lamb’s production is directed by Robert Smyth, the Producing Artistic Director for Lamb’s.
The basic story of “Noises Off” centers around a production company, in the mid-1970’s, preparing for the first opening of a play at the Grand Theatre in Weston-super-Mac, called “Nothing On”. Act I has the actors dealing with their director who is making a series of changes for Act I as he works with 6 high strung actors and actresses and 2 unique crew members. The cast misses cues, entrances and lines, has trouble with props (especially a reoccurring plate of sardines), goes in and out the numerous doors on the set slamming them over and over and, oh yes, the play is set to open the next day. By the end of Act I the director is fit-to-be-tied.
Act II takes place one month later at a performance at the Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lyne. This act is seen from backstage (the large multi-level set rotated 180 degrees). This time the cast is at one another’s throats. Quarrels, lover’s fights, romantic rivalries, a serious issue with flowers and over the top chaos sends everyone into a state or frenzy narrowly missing an ax set to inflict serious damage. All occurring backstage while the troupe performs the first act on the other side of the set.
Act III takes place after the play has been on the road for ten weeks. This time they are at the Municipal Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees. Relationships have frayed to the point of no one is getting along with anyone. As they perform, sabotage is underway, props are misplaced and the play may not make another performance unless someone can step in, even if it means ad-libbing and making up a new direction for the play.
To pull off this intense, high energy play requires a veteran cast capable of performing in very physical situations. Lamb’s has assembled just such a cast. Playing the exasperated director, Lloyd Dallas is Francis Gercke, resident artist with Cygnet Theatre and a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award Winner. Deborah Gilmour Smyth plays Dotty Otley, who is over emotionally involved with Garry and tasked with continually making sure sardines are on the set. Garry Lejeune is played by Brian Mackey, who was excellent as the preacher in Lamb’s “Smoke on the Mountain”. Garry probably sets a record for the number of times an actor goes in and out doors on stage and he has a great deal of trouble finishing sentences with something other than “you know”. Playing the flighty Brooke Ashton is Charlene Wilkinson. Brooke constantly loses her contact lenses and performs most of the play in her slip. Freddie Fellowes is played by Ross Hellwig. Freddie has constant nose bleeds and faints at the sight of blood. Belinda Blair is played by award winning Jessica John. Belinda is the most stable of the actors/actresses and tries to save the production by ad-libing when chaos flies around her. Jim Chovick has performed in 39 Lamb’s productions and in numerous theatres around the county. For “Noises Off” he plays Selsdor Mowbray, an aging actor struggling with his lines and looking for a good drink. The cast will spend a great deal of time in Act III hiding a whiskey bottle from him. Cynthia Gerber is a Lamb’s Resident Ensemble member and an Associate Artist. She plays the love struck Poppy Norton who is supposed to know where everyone should be. And last, but certainly not least, Omri Schein is hilarious as the Stage Manager who must also step in to other roles when needed, repair anything broken and keep track of Lloyd’s needs.
This is a play that requires amazing timing, coordination and a cast capable of knowing exactly where to be every moment they are on stage, many times so they won’t be hit by the occasional sardine or ax. Helping with this is the Creative Team which assists Director Smyth. Key to this is the Movement and Fight Choreographer and Assistant Director Jordan Miller. The massive and impressive rotating set for the play is designed and assembled by Set Designer Mike Buckley. Lighting Director Nathan Peirson has been with Lamb’s since 1982. Jeanne Reith is the Costume Designer and is a Critics Circle, Craig Noel nominee. Property Master Rachel Hengst has the task of making sure all of the very specific props are ready and in place, especially the sardines. Stage Manager Heather M. Brose is tasked with helping keep all of the craziness together. The result of the work this creative team and cast has accomplished is a highly entertaining and hilarious production that has the audience loudly applauding and leaving the theatre with smiles a mile wide.
If you need a little humor and fun in your life, you must take in “Noises Off”. “Noises Off” will continue at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado until May 20th. Tickets can be purchased by going to www.Lambsplayers.org or call 619-437-6000. Next up for Lamb’s will be the musical, “Once”, beginning June 1st and winner of 8 Tony Awards.
Lastly, there is a little lesson to take away from “Noises Off”, spoken by Selsdor; “When all around you is strife and uncertainty, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned plate of sardines”.