Noises Off is a 1982 farce by the English playwright Michael Frayn.

Noises Off
Poster for the 2001 Broadway revival
Written byMichael Frayn
CharactersGarry Lejeune
Dotty Otley
Lloyd Dallas
Belinda Blair
Frederick Fellowes
Brooke Ashton
Tim Allgood
Selsdon Mowbray
Poppy Norton-Taylor
Date premiered1982
Place premieredLyric Theatre, London
Original languageEnglish
SubjectPlay within a play

Frayn conceived the idea in 1970 while watching from the wings a performance of The Two of Us, a farce that he had written for Lynn Redgrave. He said, "It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind."[1] The prototype, a short-lived one-act play called Exits, was written and performed in 1977. At the request of his associate, Michael Codron, Frayn expanded this into what would become Noises Off. It takes its title from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage.

Characters of Noises Off edit

  • Lloyd Dallas: The director of a play-within-the-play, Nothing On. Temperamental, exacting and sarcastic. Involved with both Brooke and Poppy.
  • Dotty Otley: A middle-aged television star who is not only the top-billed star but also one of the play's principal investors. Dating the much younger Garry.
  • Garry Lejeune: The play's leading man, a solid actor who is completely incapable of finishing a sentence unless it is dialogue. Constantly stutters and ends sentences with "you know..." Dating Dotty and prone to jealousy.
  • Brooke Ashton: A young, inexperienced actress from London. She pays no attention to others, either in performance or backstage, and persists in her role as scripted regardless of any interruption or mayhem. She is always losing her contact lenses, without which she is blind. Part of the Lloyd–Poppy–Brooke love triangle.
  • Frederick (Freddie) Fellowes: Has a serious fear of violence and blood, both of which give him nosebleeds. Well-meaning, but lacks confidence and is rather dim-witted.
  • Belinda Blair: Cheerful and sensible, a reliable actress and the company's de facto peacemaker. Something of a gossip, and a bit two-faced. Has a rather protective attitude towards Freddie.
  • Selsdon Mowbray: An elderly, half-deaf "pro" with a long, storied career and a drinking problem. If he is not in sight while rehearsing, the stage crew must find him before he finds anything alcoholic.
  • Poppy Norton-Taylor: Assistant Stage Manager and understudy to the female roles. Emotional, skittish and over-sensitive. Part of the Lloyd-Poppy-Brooke love triangle and, by act two, pregnant with Lloyd's baby.
  • Tim Allgood: The over-worked and easily flustered Stage Manager, who must understudy, fix the set and run Lloyd's errands on top of his usual duties.

Characters of the play-within-the-play, Nothing On edit

  • Mrs. Clackett (Dotty): The Cockney housekeeper for the Brents' home. A hospitable, though slow-witted and slow-moving, chatterbox.
  • Roger Tramplemain (Garry): An estate agent looking to let Flavia's and Philip's house.
  • Vicki (Brooke): A girl Roger is attempting to seduce (or perhaps a girl trying to seduce Roger). Works for the tax authorities.
  • Philip Brent (Freddie): Lives out of the country with his wife Flavia to avoid paying taxes and is on a secret visit.
  • Flavia Brent (Belinda): Philip Brent's wife. She is dependable, though not one for household duties.
  • Burglar (Selsdon): An old man in his seventies, breaking into the Brents' house.
  • Sheikh (Freddie): Interested in renting the house.

Plot edit

Each of the three acts of Noises Off contains a performance of the first act of a play within a play, a sex farce called Nothing On. The three acts of Noises Off are each named "Act One" on the contents page of the script, though they are labelled normally in the body of the script, and the programme for Noises Off will include, provided by the author, a comprehensive programme for the Weston-super-Mare run of Nothing On, including spoof advertisements (for sardines) and acknowledgments to the providers of mysterious props that do not actually appear (e.g. stethoscope, hospital trolley, and straitjacket). Nothing is seen of the rest of Nothing On except for the ending of its Act 2.

Nothing On is the type of farce in which young girls run about in their underwear, old men drop their trousers, and many doors continually bang open and shut. It is set in "a delightful 16th-century posset mill",[2][3] modernised by the current owners and available to let while they are abroad; the fictional playwright is appropriately named Robin Housemonger.

Act One is set at the technical rehearsal at the (fictional) Grand Theatre in Weston-super-Mare. It is midnight, the night before the first performance and the cast are hopelessly unready. Baffled by entrances and exits, missed cues, missed lines, and bothersome props, including several plates of sardines, they drive Lloyd, their director, into a seething rage and back several times during the run.

Act Two shows a Wednesday matinée performance one month later,[4] at the Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. (Designed by Frank Matcham in 1891, the Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lyne was demolished in 1963.) In this act, the play is seen from backstage, providing a view that emphasises the deteriorating relationships between the cast. Romantic rivalries, lovers' tiffs and personal quarrels lead to offstage shenanigans, onstage bedlam and the occasional attack with a fire axe.

Act Three depicts a performance near the end of the ten-week run, at the (fictional) Municipal Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees. Relationships between the cast have soured considerably, the set is breaking down and props are winding up in the wrong hands, on the floor, and in the way. The actors remain determined at all costs to cover up the mounting chaos, but it is not long before the plot has to be abandoned entirely and the more coherent characters are obliged to take a lead in ad-libbing towards some sort of end.

Much of the comedy emerges from the subtle variations in each version as character flaws play off each other off-stage to undermine on-stage performance, with a great deal of slapstick. The contrast between players' on-stage and off-stage personalities is also a source of comic dissonance.

Production history edit

The play premièred at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London in 1982, directed by Michael Blakemore and starring Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington, and Nicky Henson. It opened to excellent reviews and shortly after transferred to the Savoy Theatre in the West End, where it ran until 1987 with five successive casts. It won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy.[citation needed]

On 11 December 1983, a production directed again by Blakemore and starring Dorothy Loudon, Victor Garber, Brian Murray, Jim Piddock, Deborah Rush, Douglas Seale, and Amy Wright opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where it ran for 553 performances. It earned Tony Award nominations for Best Play and for Blakemore, Rush, and Seale, and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble.[citation needed]

Noises Off has become a staple of both professional theatre companies and community theatres on both sides of the Atlantic. On 5 October 2000, the National Theatre in London mounted a revival, directed by Jeremy Sams and starring Patricia Hodge, Peter Egan and Aden Gillett, that ran for two years, transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End on 14 May 2001 with Lynn Redgrave and Stephen Mangan replacing Hodge and Egan, respectively. Sams' production transferred to Broadway, again at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, on 1 November 2001, with Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, Faith Prince, T. R. Knight, and Katie Finneran. The production was nominated for a Tony and Drama Desk Award as Best Revival of a Play, and Finneran was named Best Featured Actress by both groups.[citation needed]

Frayn has repeatedly rewritten the play over the years. The last revision was in 2000 at the request of Jeremy Sams. There are numerous differences between the 1982 and 2000 scripts. Some new sequences have been added (e.g., an introduction to Act Three, in which Tim, the Company Stage Manager, and Poppy, the Assistant Stage Manager, make simultaneous apologies – the former in front of the curtain, the latter over the PA – for the delay in the performance). Other sequences have been altered or cut entirely. References that tend to date the play (such as Mrs. Clackett's to the Brents having colour television) have been eliminated or rewritten.[citation needed]

A London production ran from 3 December 2011 to 10 March 2012 at the Old Vic Theatre, directed by Lindsay Posner and starring Jonathan Coy, Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson, Aisling Loftus, Amy Nuttall and Paul Ready. This production transferred to the Novello Theatre in the West End from 24 March to 30 June 2012, and then toured Britain and Ireland with a different cast.[citation needed]

A Broadway revival, produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, started in previews at the American Airlines Theatre on 17 December 2015, and opened on 14 January 2016. The cast featured Andrea Martin (Dotty Otley), Megan Hilty (Brooke Ashton), Campbell Scott (Lloyd Dallas), Jeremy Shamos (Frederick Fellowes), David Furr (Garry Lejeune), Rob McClure (Tim Allgood), Daniel Davis (Selsdon Mowbray), Kate Jennings Grant (Belinda Blair), and Tracee Chimo (Poppy Norton-Taylor).[5][6] The revival ran its limited run through 13 March 2016, extending by one week due to popular demand.[7] The production was nominated for 2016 Tony Awards for Best Revival of Play, Best Featured Actress for Martin and Hilty, Best Featured Actor for Furr, and Best Costume Design.[8]

An Australian production was mounted at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, where it ran for three weeks as part of Queensland Theatre Company's 2017 season.[9] After the season with QTC, the show then transferred to the Playhouse Theatre, where it ran from 8 July to 12 August with Melbourne Theatre Company.[9] The cast featured Simon Burke as Lloyd Dallas, Emily Goddard as Poppy Norton-Taylor, Libby Munro as Brooke Ashton, Ray Chong Nee as Garry Lejeune, Hugh Parker as Frederick Fellowes, James Saunders as Timothy Allgood, Louise Siversen as Dotty Otley, Steven Tandy as Selsdon Mowbray and Nicki Wendt as Belinda Blair.[10] In Australia it has been produced many times and in many places from 1982 to 2017.[11]

The play returned to the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith in a new production directed by Jeremy Herrin from 27 June to 3 August 2019, starring Lois Chimimba, Jonathan Cullen, Debra Gillett, Amy Morgan, Enyi Okoronkwo, Lloyd Owen, Daniel Rigby, Simon Rouse and Meera Syal. The production transferred to the Garrick Theatre in London's West End with Sarah Hadland, Richard Henders, Lisa McGrillis, Anjli Mohindra and Adrian Richards replacing Gillet, Cullen, Morgan, Chimimba and Okoronkwo from the Hammersmith run from 27 September 2019 until 4 January 2020.

A 40th anniversary production directed by Lindsay Posner ran at the Phoenix Theatre, London from January to March 2023 (following a short UK tour in autumn 2022) starring Felicity Kendal, Matthew Kelly, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Alexander Hanson, Sasha Frost, Joseph Millson, Jonathan Coy Pepter Lunkuse and Hubert Burton.[12] The production also began a UK tour at the Birmingham Rep with Kelly, Liza Goddard, Simon Shepherd, Dan Fredenburgh, Lisa Ambalavanar, Nikhita Lesler, Simon Coates, Lucy Robinson and Daniel Rainford from September 2023. The production will also return to the West End at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Kendal, Coy and Hanson returning, joined by Mathew Horne, Tamzin Outhwaite, Oscar Batterham and James Fleet from September to December 2023.

Notable casts edit

Role West End[13] Broadway[14] First West End Revival[15] First Broadway Revival[16] Second London Revival[17] Second Broadway Revival[18] Third West End Revival[19] Fourth West End Revival[20] Fifth West End Revival
1982 1983 2001 2011 2016 2019 2023 2023
Lloyd Dallas Paul Eddington Brian Murray Peter Egan Peter Gallagher Robert Glenister Campbell Scott Lloyd Owen Alexander Hanson Alexander Hanson
Dotty Otley Patricia Routledge Dorothy Loudon Patricia Hodge Patti LuPone Celia Imrie Andrea Martin Meera Syal Felicity Kendal Felicity Kendal
Garry Lejeune Nicky Henson Victor Garber Aden Gillett Thomas McCarthy Jamie Glover David Furr Daniel Rigby Joseph Millson Mathew Horne
Brooke Ashton Rowena Roberts Deborah Rush Natalie Walter Katie Finneran Amy Nuttall Megan Hilty Lisa McGrillis Sasha Frost Sasha Frost
Freddie Fellowes Tony Matthews Paxton Whitehead Jeff Rawle Edward Hibbert Jonathan Coy Jeremy Shamos Richard Henders Jonathan Coy Jonathan Coy
Belinda Blair Jan Waters Linda Thorson Susie Blake Faith Prince Janie Dee Kate Jennings Grant Sarah Hadland Tracy-Ann Oberman Tamzin Outhwaite
Selsdon Mowbray Michael Aldridge Douglas Seale Christopher Benjamin Richard Easton Karl Johnson Daniel Davis Simon Rouse Matthew Kelly James Fleet
Poppy Norton-Taylor Yvonne Antrobus Amy Wright Selina Griffiths Robin Weigert Aisling Loftus Tracee Chimo Anjli Mohindra Pepter Lunkuse Pepter Lunkuse
Tim Allgood Roger Lloyd-Pack Jim Piddock Paul Thornley T. R. Knight Paul Ready Rob McClure Adrian Richards Hubert Burton Oscar Batterham

Notable replacements edit

West End 1982:[15] edit

Broadway 1983:[21] edit

First West End Revival 2001[15] edit

First Broadway Revival 2001:[22] edit

Film adaptation edit

In 1992, the play was adapted for the screen by Marty Kaplan. The film, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Nicollette Sheridan, Denholm Elliott, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker and Marilu Henner, received mixed reviews, with many critics noting it was too much of a theatrical piece to translate well to the screen.[23][24] Frank Rich, who had called it "the funniest play written in my lifetime",[25] wrote that the film is "one of the worst ever made".[26]

Reception edit

Noises Off has been described as "the funniest farce ever written",[27] and "the classic farce".[28] It has been highly influential, possibly inspiring The Play That Goes Wrong series.[29]

The Guardian and Chris Addison have praised its structure.[30][31]

Awards and honours edit

First Broadway production edit

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1984 Tony Award Best Play Nominated
Best Featured Actor in a Play Douglas Seale Nominated
Best Featured Actress in a Play Deborah Rush Nominated
Best Direction of a Play Michael Blakemore Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Play Michael Blakemore Won
Outstanding Set Design Michael Annals Nominated
Outstanding Ensemble Performance Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Director Michael Blakemore Won

2001 Broadway revival edit

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2002 Tony Award Best Revival of a Play Nominated
Best Featured Actress in a Play Katie Finneran Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Play Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Katie Finneran Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Revival of a Play Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Katie Finneran Won
Outstanding Director of a Play Jeremy Sams Nominated
Drama League Award Distinguished Performance of a Revival Nominated

2016 Broadway revival edit

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2016 Tony Award Best Revival of a Play Nominated
Best Featured Actor in a Play David Furr Nominated
Best Featured Actress in a Play Andrea Martin Nominated
Megan Hilty Nominated
Best Costume Design of a Play Michael Krass Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play David Furr Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Megan Hilty Nominated
Drama League Award Distinguished Revival of a Play Nominated

References edit

  1. ^ Mehlman, Barbara K. "A CurtainUp Review". CurtainUp. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  2. ^ The fake programme for Nothing On provided by the script includes the nonsensical explanation: "In a posset-mill production was maintained throughout the year by allowing the milk to run into a heated curdling chamber where the flow of incoming ale or vinegar was ingeniously harnessed to operate a simple kind of theatrical thundersheet. The product was then packed in small 'yoggy pots' made from the scrota of wild yogs".
  3. ^ A posset was a medieval beverage made of curdled milk. See article on Round the Horne, a 1960s radio show which made posset a humorous word in English comedy.
  4. ^ Multiple sources report that Act Two is set on opening night. The plot synopsis here describes the script published in 2000, in which Michael Frayn notes that the play has been rewritten at least seven times.
  5. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Backstage Comedy Noises Off, Starring Andrea Martin and Megan Hilty, Returns to Broadway Tonight", Playbill, 17 December 2015
  6. ^ Staff. "The Verdict: Did Critics Open the Door—or Slam It—on Broadway's Noises Off?", Playbill, 14 January 2016
  7. ^ Staff. "Roundabout's Noises off Extends Broadway Run",, 25 January 2016
  8. ^ "See Full List of 2016 Tony Award Nominations", Playbill, 3 May 2016
  9. ^ a b Noises Off review", Arts Review, 6 June 2017
  10. ^ "Noises Off production details, Melbourne Theatre Company, 2017
  11. ^ "AusStage: Noises Off". Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  12. ^ "Noises Off 40th Anniversary production stars Felicity Kendal". Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  13. ^ Frayn, Michael (1985). Noises Off. Newy York, NY: Samuel French, Inc. p. 4. ISBN 0-573-61969-7.
  14. ^ "Noises Off – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB". Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  15. ^ a b c "Noises Off by Michael Frayn on stage in London through to 4 January 2020 - theatre tickets and information -". Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  16. ^ "Noises Off – Broadway Play – 2001 Revival | IBDB". Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  17. ^ "Noises Off - full cast announced at Old Vic". London Theatre. 8 June 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  18. ^ "Noises Off – Broadway Play – 2016 Revival | IBDB". Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  19. ^ Darvill, Josh (8 September 2019). "Noises Off cast confirmed for 2019 West End production". Stage Chat. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  20. ^ Phoenix Theatre programme
  21. ^ "Noises Off – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB". Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  22. ^ "Noises Off – Broadway Play – 2001 Revival | IBDB". Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  23. ^ SGR. "Noises Off..." Time Out London. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  24. ^ "Noises Off (PG-13)". The Washington Post. 20 March 1992. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  25. ^ "Theatre review: Noises Off at Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring". Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  26. ^ The Hot Seat, by Frank Rich. [page needed]
  27. ^ Johns, Lindsay (14 February 2022). "Michael Frayn's sublime farce is 40 years old. Lindsay Johns celebrates its genius". The Oldie. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  28. ^ Billington, Michael (8 September 2022). "Noises Off: the farce masterclass that is truly revealing". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  29. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (8 January 2023). "'It's my Mousetrap': Michael Frayn on Noises Off, a farce to be reckoned with". The Observer. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  30. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Chain Reaction, Series 8, Rebecca Front interviews Chris Addison". 7:34: BBC. Retrieved 22 May 2023. structurally the most perfect piece of comedy writing I have encountered{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  31. ^ Gillinson, Miriam (29 September 2022). "Noises Off review – Frayn's exquisite farce-within-a-farce finds new humanity". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 May 2023.

External links edit