Review / Complex script with amazing timing

Theatre / “Noises Off”. By Michael Frayn and directed by Cate Clelland. At Canberra Repertory until December 2. Reviewed by JOHN LOMBARD.

"Noises Off". Photo by Helen Drum

The cast of “Noises Off”. Photo by Helen Drum

ANYONE who has ever been involved in a play knows the real action is always what the audience doesn’t see – the antics backstage. 
Michael Frayn’s engaging farce lifts the curtains on behind the scenes shenanigans, with a cast of well-meaning actors fraying under the pressures of both opening night and their own over-active libidos.
The play-within-a-play is a slightly worn English farce with just enough genuine chuckles for us to feel as though even if it is not a critical success, it might make everyone involved a little money.
We first see the actors struggle through a dress-rehearsal, and then follow live performances where as backstage relationships crumble the on-stage chaos mounts.
The actors are all recognisable types, especially for anyone who has been involved in theatre.  Among others, there is the actress oblivious of everything except mechanically delivering their next line, or the ageing veteran with the not-so-covert drinking problem.
Peter Holland is sublime as the patronising, waspish director tasked with wrangling this motley but good-hearted assortment and getting the show as far as a successful opening – before he sprints off to be involved with more prestigious projects.
Director Cate Clelland enforces a whip-crack pace, with the cast performing a dizzyingly complex script with amazing timing.
The highlight of the night is an extended slapstick sequence set in the wings of a live performance where the actors squabble and sabotage while struggling to keep quiet behind the scenes.
Noises Off is the perfect end to the year, a lively and very funny performance of a classic farce

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