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Sunday, August 23, 2009


Director Steven Stead has a fine Greg King designed set to play with, and a cast of Durban’s finest. (Review by Margaret von Klemperer)

Michael Frayn’s brilliant über-farce, set onstage and backstage with a touring theatrical company, presents huge challenges for actors, director and above all, set designer who has to create a revolving double-storey set, with numerous functioning doors, staircases and windows. Their jobs are made easier by a superb script, but Noises Off is no pushover with easy laughs.

For those who don’t know the play, the first act shows the chaotic final rehearsal of a farce, Nothing On, set in the home of a tax exile. The housekeeper is looking after the place and showing prospective renters around in between getting her feet up with a plate of sardines and the telly. The estate agent sees it as a convenient spot for a bit of dalliance, a bumbling burglar reckons it’s a soft touch for his skills and the owners want to sneak in below the tax-man’s radar to check on things.

This act is the key to the whole play: the actors have to establish their own characters, as well as those for the play within the play. Relationships and tensions between them need to be clear, and the dramatic business with plates of sardines and luggage must be needle-sharp so that when things go wrong, the audience is right there.

In the second act, we are backstage and halfway through the run with things disintegrating when Lloyd, the director, pops in to see how things are going and continue his fun and games with ingénue Roxy and/or stage manager Poppy. The final act is onstage again, and the last night of the run. Chaos reigns.

The ingredients are there for this KickstArt production. Director Steven Stead has a fine Greg King designed set to play with, and a cast of Durban’s finest, with acting honours going to Liesl Coppin as Belinda/the tax-exile’s and Michael Gritten as Tim the handyman. But it is not quite gelling as it should. A bit more attention needs to be given to getting established in Act 1: when something is going to be significant later on, the audience needs to be alerted to it. Anyone not knowing the play could have been forgiven for wondering why people were suddenly wrapped in sheets and claiming to be Arab Sheiks. And the tensions among the cast members must be crystal clear.

Once we get backstage, things are better, though I would have liked to see more made of the famous scene with the axe. Noises Off is right at the beginning of its run, and unlike the fictional Nothing On, things should settle down and tighten up. And then it will be all it should be. Margaret von Klemperer

"Noises Off" runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until September 6 (book at Computicket) and will then have two performances at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival.