Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Theater review: Noises Off is a non-stop whirlwind of pratfalls, slapstick, comedy and tragedy
Things go awry when actors of the play-within-a-play struggle the night before opening.
GRANBURY After a long, strenuous holiday season, it seems quite apropos to go do a new show; at least that’s what the character Lloyd Dallas is going to do in Granbury Theatre Company’s production of Noises Off.
Noises Off was originally conceived as Exits, a short one-act commissioned for Martin Tickener and produced as a midnight show for the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London. This first production opened September 10, 1977 to a full house. Patricia Routledge starred in the Eric Thompson-directed show which became so successful the author was asked by Michael Codron to expand it into a full-length production. With Codron's, help Frayn wrote and re-wrote the show for five years, opening in 1982 at the Savoy Theatre in London with Routledge back at the helm. The 1980s version can still be found and is properly named The Codron Version. The show once again became such a success that Codron had Frayn get the show ready for Broadway. After months and months of rewrites, it opened on December 11, 1983 at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre, directed by Michael Blakemore who also directed the London version. Dorothy London played Dotty Otley alongside Brian Murray who played Lloyd Dallas. Blakemore walked away from the experience with an Outer Critics Circle Award for "Best Director."
Noises Off continued to hit the regional theater circuit as a favorite for many theatre people. The Royal National Theatre revived the show with a new director, Jeremy Sams, on October 5, 2000. Later on, the show moved to the Piccadilly Theatre in London where Lynn Redgrave played the role of Dotty Otley. The change proved to be for the best as it caught the attention of Broadway once again. Both Frayn and Sams worked feverishly to get Noises Off back to its original Broadway home, The Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The revival opened November 1, 2001 with Patti Lupone as Dotty Otley and Peter Gallagher as Lloyd Dallas. Noises Off was once again nominated for several awards and Katie Finneran won the Tony for "Best Featured Actress in a Play" for her performance as Brooke Ashton. The show is still one of the top produced shows in the Samuel French library.
Noises Off starts with the dress rehearsal of the play Nothing On. The audience gets to see the show within the show. Directed by Lloyd Davis, Nothing On’s cast consists of Mrs. Clackett, the housemaid played by Dotty Otley; Roger Tramplemain, a sleazy attorney played by Garry Lejeune; Vicki, Rogers girlfriend, played by Brooke Ashton, Philip Brent, the homeowner played by Frederick Fellowes and his wife Flavia played by Belinda Blair; The Burglar played by Selsdon Mowbray; and the sheik played by Frederick Fellowes. As the dress rehearsal progresses, you find that the antics of the cast have put the entire rehearsal behind schedule. Problem is that it’s the day before opening.
As the rehearsal progresses you get to see the inner workings of a theater production. From the stage manager to the director, the audience is witness to the building of a show from one grueling step to the next. Within all this, the director’s promiscuous ways puts two girlfriends in the same show. One is an actress and one a stage manager, and together they become trouble for Davis. In Act Two the audience has the hilarious privilege of being backstage to see how their play really runs. From a drunken actor to the frolicking cast, Noises Off is a non-stop whirlwind of pratfalls, slapstick, comedy and tragedy.
Robert G. Shores took on the challenge of directing this extremely difficult play. Shores started the show with the curtain lowered, just not all the way. The curtain was sitting about a foot above the floor which really added to the humor. Shores also performs in the show as Frederick Fellowes. I have never been a big fan of acting in the play you’re directing as there are too many opportunities for things to unravel or be missed. This was, unfortunately, true for Shores. There were several changes to the script and it seemed as though the director mixed and matched things from different versions of scripts to make the show what he wanted rather than what the playwright wrote.
I was anticipating seeing the set when the curtain finally went up. The script states it to be a pristine piece of British theater craftsmanship, but when the curtain went up I was really disappointed. Courtney Smith’s set was too tall to accommodate the large proscenium opening of the opera house. The stairway risers were over a foot tall, making them precarious for the actors. Upstairs were the traditional three doors with a hallway to the attic, while downstairs was a swinging door for the kitchen and three doors for the front entry, den, and WC. The set had some great texturization which was pleasing to see, and an attempt was made to bring out the English Tudor stylization of the period, though the workmanship was not properly finished out on doorway and window trims. The backstage set looked unfinished which worked for the second act. I was impressed at the masking from behind the window. In front was a nice garden scene, but as the set turned around, you could see the action onstage through the window.
Lighting design by Adam Livingston was simple enough, but was also uneven and lacked any dimension. The upper level of the set was extremely bright for every scene which led your eyes to continue to look at the upper platforms even when there was no action there. During Act Two the lighting focus was again on the upper level while being extremely dark everywhere else. This made it virtually impossible to see actors’ antics under the stairs and upper deck. A scene stage right in front of the stage manager’s console was completely in the dark, therefore making it impossible to see any of the actors there.
Properties mistress, Jennifer Orcutt, was kept busy in this prop heavy show. Her attention to detail was extraordinary. From the whiskey color to the sardines which flopped around, she did her job to a tee. Orcutt did a fabulous job set dressing as well. The side bar was put together well and had all the proper bottles and bar equipment on it.
The acting on a whole was good. Some slow timing in Act One could have killed the whole show but the actors picked it up for the remaining acts. Latricia L. Zaitoon brought Dotty Otley and Mrs. Clackett to life. I think hers was the best performance of the night. The lines written for Mrs. Otley are truly funny to begin with but the way Zaitoon moved, and her varied facial expressions, was priceless.
Luke Hunt’s booming voice took Lloyd Dallas to a new level. His commanding tone through the whole play almost fooled you into thinking he really was the director. I had to do a double take when he first spoke because I couldn’t believe that voice came from that actor.
The character Selsdon Mowbray steals the stage the moment he enters, and Jaime Long’s portrayal was incredibly funny. The role of an alcoholic actor is always funny, but when the real actor makes him as believable as Long did, it becomes a huge part of the show.
Alex Wade took on the role of Garry Lejeune and did it perfectly. Wade’s ability to add slapstick to his character really helped enhance his character. This actor really earned his money with this very physical role.
The other role that had an extremely physical role was Frederick Fellowes played by director Robert G. Shores. Shores was more than up to the task the role required and made it through Act Two without seeming winded. He makes it through the grueling Act Two without looking winded at all.
Katherine Anthony and Ashley Blaine play Lloyd Dallas’ two love interests. Anthony plays Poppy the stage manager and excelled as the character. Her portrayal went a little to the ditzy side but was truly effective within the writing. Ashley Blaine plays Brooke Ashton which couldn’t have been easy. Through half the show she runs around in lingerie, so feeling vulnerable could prohibit a good performance. Not for Blaine though; she played the part with ease. She actually looked a bit too cool and calm, which made her character seem too smart for the part, but all in all she carried the part well.
Tim Allgood is portrayed by Preston Chapman. The assistant stage manager, the set builder, the fly man, you name it he did it. Act Two is where Chapman’s character flourishes and he did a great job with it. With all the action in that scene he kept the pranks going, and his mannerisms really sold his character as a stage hand.
There were good parts and bad parts to this production but with what Michael Frayn has written it would be difficult to make this show bad. Noises Off is truly brilliant, fun, and Granbury Theatre Company’s production should be par-taken by every theater goer that can go see it. An inside look at a theater production might be fascinating for those that have never seen how it’s actually done.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
- Drive-in movie theater in Granbury temporarily closed and up for sale
- Theater review: Granbury Theatre Company cranks a rockin' All Shook Up
- Theater review: Granbury pulls off capital performance of 1776
- Theater review: The Foreigner at Granbury Theatre Company leaves things open to interpretation
- Theater review: Twelve Angry Men decide a man's fate after the murder of his father