Review: Noises Off in Eastbourne – ridiculousness and calamity abound

Review by Tony Flood: Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, Tue 23 Jan to Sat 27 Jan
Noises Off - Pamela Raith PhotographyNoises Off - Pamela Raith Photography
Noises Off - Pamela Raith Photography

The ridiculousness served up in large doses by Noises Off has, over the past 42 years, left many audience members howling with laughter, but others simply bewildered. And both reactions were evident at Tuesday's opening night at the Congress Theatre. Most of the audience showed their appreciation by giving prolonged applause at the end, but some sat in silence - and two had walked out half way through.Michael Frayn's play within a play, which has just completed a West End season, lampoons a touring theatre company both on and offstage as they blunder their way through an excruciatingly bad farce called Nothing On. A chaotic dress rehearsal is followed by an equally calamitous first performance.Franyn provides three seperate parts. Act one introduces the spoof and the characters. Act two takes us backstage where tantrams and panic are paramount, resulting in an amusing series of conflicting curtain-up announcements. But most of the laughs come in Act three by which time the audience has been fully primed to appreciate the deliberate mess ups.Director Lindsay Posner gradually builds up the pace and ineptness as frustrated fictional director Lloyd Dallas, superbly played by Simon Shepherd, berates his incompetent cast. The aggrogant Dallas also finds time to have affairs with dimwitted sexy actress Brooke Ashton (Lisa Ambalavanar) and stage manager Poppy (Nikhita Lesler). Liza Goddard makes light of her 74 years in capturing the quirkiness of Dotty Otley who forgets her props, including a plate of sardines which end up on the floor. There are other impressive performances from Dan Fredenburgh as neurotic leading man Garry Lejeune, Simon Coates, playing clueless Frederick Fellowes, and Paul Bradley as whisky-guzzling, muddled Selsdon Mowbray.The buffoonery includes Frederick's constant nose bleeds, searches for Brooke's displaced contact lenses and Garry's fall down a flight of stairs. Oh, there's also the customary dropping of trousers and parading in stockings and suspenders! Lucy Robinson and Daniel Rainford add to the madness with important comic contributions. Some potentially funny situations are not fully exploited, partly due to a lack of clarity, but everyone involved deserves praise for showing both split-second timing and boundless energy in performing so many slapstick routines.* There's a Tea and Tour of the Congress Theatre and Devonshire Park Theatre on Saturday 27 January, 9 March, 20 April and 4 May.