I had some misgivings ahead of the opening night of Noises Offat QPAC'sPlayhouse. Michael Frayn's play has been performed all over the world since its 1982 debut at London's Lyric Hammersmith. However, with a promised "busty brunette bombshell" running around in her underwear,\ and a businessman with his trousers perpetually around his ankles, I feared it would lean too heavily on a Benny Hill brand of humour.
Noises Off, to my delight, offered much more substance than that though. Peeling back the layers, it is ostensibly centred on a low budget English stage company trying to pull off a bedroom farce called Nothing On. The first act brings us the actors and production crew wrestling with the demands of a dress rehearsal gone wrong. We revisit them backstage during a disintegrating regional tour and then again at its final ramshackle performance of the season.
But the performance of the Nothing On play is far from the point. What really resonates in this production presented by Queensland Theatre and Melbourne Theatre Company are the portraits of dysfunction revealed through the characters' off-stage interactions - the love affairs, frustrations, power trips, petty jealousies and acts of sabotage. The ample humour in this production relies on split-second timing, with Artistic Director Sam Strong describing Noises Offas a classic "not just because it is very funny, but also because it is a work of structural perfection ... a Swiss watch of comic construction."
Simon Burke cuts an imperious but ultimately pitiful figure as the God-like Nothing On director Lloyd Dallas, while the performance by Louise Siversen (as Dotty/ Mrs Clackett) inspired laughs from the get-go. Queensland audiences will be well-acquainted with Hugh Parker (Freddie Fellowes/Philip Brent) who has also appeared in Tartuffe, Much Ado About Nothing, and Straight White Men. Libby Munro (as Brooke Ashton/Vicki), Ray Chong Nee (as Garry Lejeune/Roger Tremplemain), Emily Goddard (as harried assistant Poppy Norton-Taylor/ASM), James Saunders (as Tim Allgood/SM), Steven Tandy (Selsdon Mowbray/Burglar) and Nicki Wendt (Belinda Blair/Flavia Brent) also put on star turns.
Noises Off runs for three hours, with 20-minute interval. This sounds considerable, given today's short attention spans, but you'll be laughing too hard to notice the time passing. Fortunately, too, it's a humour which is not reliant on a knowledge of theatre-making. Think of Noises Off as a bit like The Office ... a workplace comedy that we can all relate to.