by Lynn on September 30, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael Frayn
Directed by Ted Dykstra
Set by Patrick Clark
Costumes by Erika Connor
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Sound by Creighton Doane
Cast: Oliver Dennis
Raquel Duffy
Matthew Edison
Christopher Morris
Oyin Oladejo
Anand Rajaram
Brenda Robins
Myrthin Stagg
David Storch

HEHEHEHEHE (gasping for breath)HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, (OH God) (gulping air) hehehehHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHE, (bent over paralyzed with laughing) (red-faced—BREATHE!! (gasp—gulp air) laugh some more. Which is a long way of saying that the production of Noises Off at the Young Centre is rib-busting funny.

The Story. A group of ‘B’ actors are stumbling through the dress/tech rehearsal for a play that they will tour for several months around the British provinces. It’s not going well. The leading lady forgets her lines, the order of business and endless plates of sardines. The stereotypical dumb blonde loses her way in the show and her contact lens. One senior actor drinks and the trick is to prevent him. Disruptions are many and the director is about to explode or kill someone.

Act II takes place backstage a month later, during a matinee of the same play. The leading lady is having a hissy fit in her dressing room and won’t come out. She was having an affair with a young actor in the company and it has been rocky. The director was having a fling with the blonde and that’s going badly and he arrives to make it up to her. Meanwhile, the stage manager has had a fling with the same director and she needs to speak with him urgently. Animosity between actors is high. The show is going on on stage while all hell is breaking out back stage where all the dialogue is indicated in extravagant mime, as talking is not allowed while the show goes on. A big axe figures prominently.

Act III is two months later at the end of the run. Everyone is exhausted and on automatic pilot. We are on stage again watching a performance from hell. Props don’t work. Cues are missed. The sardines fall on the floor and actors accidentally slip in them. Doors malfunction, as a matter of fact, everything malfunctions.

The Production. Director Ted Dykstra knows from comedy. His gifted cast knows from comedy. Together they have taken Noises Off, Michael Frayn’s exquisitely funny 1982 farce and ramped up the laughs. While there might be a Frayn laugh every 50 seconds, Dykstra adds stage business, visual humour and witty detail every 10 seconds. Resistance is futile.

A character slides down a banister. Another falls down a flight of stairs. Other characters bang into beams. There is that ubiquitous and disappearing plate of sardines. The production is not just in your face high jinx, there is wondrous subtlety too. Each character has a signature ‘look’ because of the smart, gifted actor playing him/her and that seriously attentive director guiding them. Oliver Dennis plays Selsdon Mowbray, the senior actor, with a slouch, a distracted look, and a longing gaze at any bottle of liquor. Raquel Duffy plays the always smiling Belinda Blair, who knows everybody’s secrets. She’s kind, quiet and watchful. Matthew Edison plays Garry Lejeune, a boyish, eye-glasses-adjusting man who never met a sentence he could finish. His speech is peppered with “you know” which is obvious nobody knows what he’s talking about. Christopher Morris as Frederick Fellowes makes an art-form of posing with swivelled hips and professing how silly he is about plot and reasons for doing a line the way he is asked. Oyin Oladejo plays Poppy Norton-Taylor, the harried stage manager, who cries easily and has cause to cry as well. Anand Rajaram is Tim Algood, the sole tech/administrator/jack of every single trade in the world. Rajaram is a master of comedy. He can bulge his eyes in terror/surprise and get a laugh by just shuddering. Brenda Robins plays Dotty Otley. She is confused about where that damned plate of sardines is; when to take that damned plate off stage and when to leave it. She is the actress who needs this job for her old age. You can see the quiet desperation in Robins wonderful performance. Myrthin Stagg plays Brooke Ashton, the stereotypical blonde who plays her part mainly in her ‘smalls’. She has that vacant look, especially when she is on stage, but ‘not in the scene’, that is masterful. She is wispy voiced, ‘air-headed’ and wonderful. David Storch plays Lloyd Dallas, the director, frantic to get the rehearsal over with before the actual opening night performance. Psychology aside in trying to manoeuvre all these difference personalities, Lloyd Dallas is an educated man relegated to directing third rate plays for second rate actors, even though they give it their all. Each and every one of these characters is made flesh, blood and beating heart by this gifted cast.

Comment. Michael Frayn got the idea for the play while watching a farce from backstage. On the surface Noises Off is considered one of the funniest farces of all time, if not the funniest. I don’t know how you decide that—by vote? By a collection of sore ribs from laughing?

Noises Off, in the play-within-the-play, is also a reflection of the subjects, prejudices and uncomfortable situations of its time, the 1970s. There are racist references to Arabs. There is the sexist assumption that blondes are stupid and just sexual beings. There is the suggestion that theatre people jump into and out of a raft of changing beds. Farce is provocative as the extraordinary note from the company of Noises Off suggests. It reflects the changing world. But first you will laugh.

You will laugh so hard your cheeks will hurt—all of them.

Presented by Soulpepper

Opened: Sept.29, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 22, 2016.
Cast: 9; 5 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

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