Review: Noises Off, Garrick Theatre

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Lisa-McGrillis-Lloyd-Owen-Sarah-Hadland-Meera-Syal-in-Noises-Off-Garrick-Theatre-Picture Credit-Helen-Maybanks - Credit: Helen Maybanks

Michael Frayn’s meta-farce gets a finely honed frenetic revival that’s a tonic of laughter in these trying times

With the country heading to hell in a handcart, and Extinction Rebellion banging their apocalyptic drums outside the theatre door, the only sane solution is to slip inside and laugh like a maniac at dropped trousers and panicking actors slipping over on tinned fish.

As Lloyd Dallas, sardonic director of the dismal regional farce Nothing On reminds his cast: 'it's all about doors, sardines and boxes'.

And so it is. Farces are driven not by character, but by entrances, exits, multiple props, and misunderstandings - although that doesn't stop Garry Lejeune, an actor playing a randy estate agent entertainingly enquiring about his motivation.

Long before The Play That Goes Wrong colonised this territory, Michael Frayn got the idea for his meta-farce after watching a performance of his play The Two of Us from backstage right here at The Garrick.

The controlled chaos of Tom Briers and Lynn Redgrave swapping multiple characters was just as entertaining as sitting out front he thought.

Thus we first see a scene from this terrible touring production during its tortuous late-night tech rehearsal, then again from backstage, half way through the run, and finally from the front as the set falls apart and the cast are at each other's throats.

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There's deaf dypsomaniac Selsdon Mowbray, who must be kept from the bottle, Meera Syal's queen bee Dotty Otley, and lothario director Lloyd (Lloyd Evans) the centre of a love triangle that must be smoothed over with flowers before he can dash off to direct Richard III.

Hats off to director Jeremy Herrin for the sheer choreography of Act II, an intricate, precision-timed frenzy of dropped contact lenses, nosebleeds, plates of sardines and axe-wielding as Lejeune goes postal.

As each act speeds up, cast relations deteriorate, hysteria mounts and actors lose their fragile grip on the flimsy material, they heroically try to hit their cues, while furiously ad-libbing and going tits up over the furniture.

Farce is a celebration of human frailty and there's so much if it here, alongside an affectionate nod to the near-vanished regional repertory theatre.

It's unashamedly slapstick, mired in crummy 80s mores, there's no learning moment, and you won't leave the theatre a better person.

But you might just feel better about the impending end of the world.