The idea of a play within a play is at least as old as Shakespeare.
"Noises Off" has been playing, somewhere in the world, since 1982. "I've seen it three times" said a theatre-goer at the most recent QPAC performance "and loved it every time".
This time we have a joint QTC/Melbourne Theatre Company production. A three act play which we see first in disastrous rehearsal, as the cast struggle with their entrances and exits, and try to cope with more accidents than seem statistically possible.
For the second act, the scenery revolves, and we see the action from behind the stage.
The playwright has given us a bizarre mix of characters: Dotty, who has made her money as a younger woman, and is likely to lose a great deal of it underwriting this train-wreck of a play, called "Nothing On". A cougar before the term was coined, she is having an affair with her much younger leading man. The director is having affairs with both the obsessive compulsive stage manager, and the vacuous leading lady, prone to losing her contact lenses. Add Frederick, who cannot simply act, but needs to be given motivations for every move his character does.
The astonishing twist is that we see "Nothing On" three times, each time with more convolutions, more catastrophes and more inter-personal warfare between the characters.
To make this work, one needs split-second timing and a cast which appears to be playing it seriously in the midst of chaos.
Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay this production is that the audience was clearly totally engaged, and throughout there were the shocked gasps, guffaws and giggles that are music to the ears of any director of farce.
Expect to leave with a changed attitude to doors and sardines.
It is a classic farce, with great direction, strong cast, excellent staging and brilliant script.
Well deserving of the extended standing ovation QPAC gave it.