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Saturday, August 22, 2009


(Pic: Ben Voss, Bryan Hiles and Lisa Bobbert in mid-chaos)

KickstArt’s well-knit and excellent cast do full justice to Michael Frayn’s helter-skelter theatre romp. (Review by Caroline Smart)

KickstArt’s well-knit and excellent cast is currently doing full justice to Michael Frayn’s helter-skelter theatre romp at the Elizabeth Sneddon before going on to perform at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival.

Apart from seeing the West End production in London in 1987, I have seen this hilarious and cleverly-constructed farce at least four times and, in order to set the background, I make no excuses in drawing from my review of the Pieter Toerien production in Grahamstown in 2005 (July 9).

“Michael Frayn aptly titled his brilliant and now-classic production, Noises Off, referring not only to the legitimate and scripted sounds as part of comedy action but as noises the audience shouldn’t hear when something goes wrong backstage.

To add to the enjoyment of this scenario, Frayne turns his set around – not once, but twice, so that we can see what is happening throughout a period of time from both a front and backstage viewpoint. It’s a convoluted situation and a props nightmare, not to mention that there are no less than eight doors through which the action must continue at breakneck speed.

Noises Off opens on the final technical rehearsal (no time for a dress rehearsal) of a traditional sex farce titled Nothing On. It’s nearly midnight and the cast is tired and irritable, some pre-occupied with personal problems, some still trying to find the motivation behind their roles and others just trying to keep the peace. Seated in the auditorium, the weary director less than patiently exhorts his cast to get their entrances and exits correct – let alone, their lines!, nag the crew to fix doors that won’t open and actually get through the act before the following night’s opening. To make things worse, one of his cast members is deaf and has a tendency to hit the bottle!“

The story of Nothing On is set in the home of tax exiles. The housekeeper is preparing to sit down with a plate of sardines to watch the Royal wedding on television when her quietly ordered life falls apart – as do several plates of sardines!

Michael Frayn wrote Noises Off in 1982 after standing in the wings and watching a performance of a comedy which he had written for Lynn Redgrave called Chinatown. He is quoted as saying, "It was funnier from behind than in front and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind."

Noises Off could well be considered a masterclass of theatre technique. All the disaster areas are there: confrontations with the director, forgotten lines or moves, missed entrances or props that aren’t where they are supposed to be. Added to the mix is the personal angle where love/hate relationships within the cast can upset the smooth running of the show, and sometimes completely derail it! The play also helps to explain to the uninitiated the vital role that a director plays, something that is often taken for granted by the average audience member.

The cast has to operate on a number of levels – first as actors requiring the correct vocal and physical presentation for theatre. Then, when performing in the “play within the play”, they need to exaggerate their presentation. Thirdly, they have to emote as both their characters and the roles they play.

KickstArt’s multi-award winning creative team has come up with a major success. For director Steven Stead, the challenge is to take three “playlets”, as it were – the first act of Nothing On as seen in rehearsal, from backstage and again from the audience’s perspective as it plays its last performance - and make them a logical whole. This he has achieved admirably, drawing strong performances from his cast who maintain the punishing pace set by the playwright. For designer Greg King, the challenge was to produce a solid and sturdy yet credible set that not only revolves but can cope with all the tumbles and running around (often at top speed) - and there is the logistical nightmare of those eight doors! All credit to the backstage and technical crew.

This is an ensemble piece and the unity of its cast members is very evident. Lisa Bobbert is a delight as the housekeeper Dottie, her comedy timing perfect for this role. Bryan Hiles’s considerable agility stands him in good stead as Garry and Darren King is amusingly vague as Freddy who is prone to nose-bleeds at the sight of violence or blood. Liesl Coppin gives out just the right sense of flair and ladylike style as Belinda, Michael Gritten is suitably bemused as the harassed handyman and Belinda Henwood is adorable as the much put-upon stage manager. Peter Court pulls in the laughs as the doddery alcohol-driven Selsden and Ben Voss is commanding as the long-suffering director who is not averse to having his own off-stage relationships! Newcomer to the professional stage, Roxy Nel as the ditsy Brooke more than holds her own in such stellar company.

Don’t miss this – and it’s a production you should actually see a couple of times in order to reap the full benefit of Michael Frayn’s writing and KickstArt’s presentation.

Performances in Durban run at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until September 6, with shows Tuesday to Saturday at 19h30 with an extra performance on Saturday at 14h30 (Sundays at 15h00). Tickets R90 booked through Computicket. For more information visit KickstArt’s website:

Booking for the Witness Hilton Arts Festival performances (September 19 to 20) can be found at or 033 3830126 or – Caroline Smart

KickstArt presents Noises Off, funded by the National Lottery Board.