Review: Noises Off, Garrick Theatre

The Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Noises Off transfer in fine style to the Garrick Theatre

“Let there be doors that open when they open and close when they close”

I’ve long had my issues with farce but Noises Off managed to break through my preconceptions to genuinely make me laugh when the Old Vic revived it and then took it into the West End back in 2012. Even so, I have to say I wasn’t much enamoured by the thought of going back to it, hence me not going to the Lyric Hammersmith to catch Jeremy Herrin’s production there and only just now making it to this West End transfer at the Garrick Theatre.

And after the first act, I began to wonder if I hadn’t had the right impulse initially. I’d argue it’s good but not great, leaning into conventional farce as a touring theatre company take their own farce Nothing On across the country while dealing with the repercussions of their tangled inter-relationships. It is after the interval that the play soars though, the second act takes us behind the scenes into a sensationally choreographed piece of riotous fun of the highest order. Continue reading “Review: Noises Off, Garrick Theatre”

Radio Review: Skios/Copenhagen/Headlong

“Foxoliver?”

Michael Frayn’s 80th birthday is being celebrated by BBC radio with a mini-season of his work, featuring a new version of his play Copenhagen and adaptation of his novels Skios and Headlong. First up was Skios, a farcical tale somewhat in the vein of Noises Off and something really quite funny indeed. The tale itself, of mistaken identities, fake professors and frustrated lovers, is mostly entertaining if not quite as masterfully complex as his other work, but what really lifts this dramatisation by Archie Scottney is the kind of dream comic casting one would pay through the nose to see in a theatre.

Tom Hollander plays Oliver Fox, who is going on an ill-advised romantic break to Greece with a woman he has just met. When he is taken for someone else at arrivals, he soon finds himself installed in the warm embrace of the Toppler Foundation who believe that he is Dr Norman Wilfred, the keynote speaker at their conference on Scientometrics and has his every need attended to by super-efficient PA Nikki Hook, Lisa Dillon in sparklingly funny form, who finds herself rather taken by him. Meanwhile, the real Dr Wilfred, a bumbling High Bonneville, also finds himself the victim of misidentification as he ends up in the remote Greek villa where Oliver was meant to be going and where his would-be girlfriend is still headed, the glorious Janie Dee starring as the unawares Georgie. Continue reading “Radio Review: Skios/Copenhagen/Headlong”

Review: Democracy, Old Vic

“That’s why I love mushrooms – you pick them, pickle them and eat them”

There’s apparently no predicting the way in which theatrical transfers work (apart from if we’re talking about Chichester musicals…). I can’t imagine the logistics involved in securing the necessary financial support, keeping the cast onboard and finding the ideal venue but perhaps more significantly, I’ve no concept of how the conversations begin. In some cases it seems a no-brainer, as in the aforementioned big-hitting Chichester musicals and indeed plays; in others, it seems easily misjudged, cf Written on the Heart;  and then there’s the others, in which a perfect confluence of factors enable a well-received production to make the relocation.

It is probably the latter of these options in the case of Democracy, one of the three Michael Frayn plays that made up Sheffield Theatre’s celebration of his work earlier this year (Copenhagen and Benefactors were the others), which has now transferred to the Old Vic. On the face of it, it may not be the most appealing of prospects, a play based on real-life events in West German politics in the 1970s but what emerges is a sweeping spy thriller full of political intrigue and historical significance, which is all the more compelling for being true.   Continue reading “Review: Democracy, Old Vic”

Review: Here, Rose Kingston

“How does it seem? Fine? Right, let’s get the sandwiches out.”

Michael Frayn’s star is shining very brightly at the moment in the theatre. The Old Vic’s production of Noises Off has transferred into the West End and the Sheffield Theatres held a three-show retrospective of his work, of which one, Democracy, will be transferring to the Old Vic in the summer. And now the Rose Theatre Kingston has gotten in on the game with a new production of one of his lesser known works Here. Originally written in 1993, it underwhelmed the critics at the Donmar Warehouse, but a reworked version gained popularity on the continent and ever the industrialist, Frayn has tinkered with it again and it is this rewrite that is being premiered here in Kingston-upon-Thames.

Young couple Phil and Cath move into a studio flat but the start of their new shared life together is marked by chronic uncertainty as they tie themselves in knots over every single little decision like where to put the bed, where to put the pot-plant, what to do with the manky old chair gifted to them by the landlady. They pore over the significance of each thing, each question asked of the other, and then challenge the answers in circular discussions full of double-speak and debate. It becomes clear that Frayn is interested in how we construct lives and relationships together, the terms on which we negotiate and the compromises we settle on. Continue reading “Review: Here, Rose Kingston”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Minerva

“I could have been a Dostoevsky”

Opening the season for Chichester’s 2012 Festival, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary no less, is Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Roger Allam stars in Jeremy Herrin’s production in the Minerva studio, which utilises a translation by Michael Frayn but given that it is barely a week since I saw and adored The Print Room’s production of the same play, the bar was raised really quite high for this one. But setting productions up against each other achieves little and though my preferences ended up in West London rather than West Sussex, one can appreciate that perhaps they are attuned to different audiences.

Chekhov’s tale of a man who has spent most of his working life as the steward of his late sister’s Russian country estate but is thrown into inconsolable desolation at the realisation that he may well have wasted his life in servitude. The gloomy atmosphere pervades to encompass all the residents of the house and matters are exacerbated with the arrival of ex-brother-in-law Serebryakov, with his glamorous, much younger wife Yelena. His plans and her presence rouses the beginnings of some response but lifetimes of inaction and repression prove hard to shake off for all concerned. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Minerva”

Re-review: Noises Off, Novello Theatre

“Once it gets in your nostrils, the smell of it never leaves”

One of the most unexpected things that happened to me in a theatre last year was me tumbling utterly for the charms of Noises Off. As detailed in my review from then, I’m really not a fan of farce but Michael Frayn’s play is so much more than what I’ve come to associate with the genre. Intelligently written in its deconstruction of it but still imbued with an affectionate warmth that shines through as this touring theatre company of misfits struggle across the country with a stuttering show which increasingly disintegrates as their shenanigans threaten to derail the whole shebang.

The show has transferred from its sell-out run at the Old Vic to the Novello Theatre where it will play til the end of June, and rather impressively it has managed to hang on to a large proportion of its cast. So one can still experience the glorious turns from Celia Imrie, Janie Dee, Karl Johnson et al and if anything, their performances have become richer in their perfectly timed interactions and comic desperation. The two new arrivals – Alice Bailey Johnson and Lucy Briggs-Owen – have slotted in extremely well. Bailey Johnson’s wailing ASM is good in a rather limited role but Brigg-Owen is excellent as the blank-eyed Brooke whose limitations are exposed as often as her contact lenses fall out. Continue reading “Re-review: Noises Off, Novello Theatre”

Review: Copenhagen, Lyceum

“The more I’ve explained, the deeper the uncertainty becomes”

Last year it was the turn of David Hare to get a retrospective season in Sheffield celebrating his work, but 2012 sees the Crucible et al honouring Michael Frayn. The Old Vic’s revival of his farce Noises Off has been an immense success in London, but Frayn is also known for his weightier fare and that is what this season is focusing on, featuring productions of Benefactors, Democracy, and Copenhagen – in a remarkably short run that I was lucky to make.

The play is a three-hander that is centred around the 1941 real-life meeting between Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr and his wife at their home in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen. Both were scientists involved in the field of nuclear physics but the content of their meeting remains a mystery, though the implication is that Heisenberg’s development of nuclear weapons for the Nazi regime may have been high on the agenda. Frayn expands and expounds on this in the most esoteric and complex of ways, folding in huge issues of philosophy, morality, history, memory, love and quantum physics. Continue reading “Review: Copenhagen, Lyceum”

Review: Noises Off, Old Vic

“Oh God, I can’t believe we’re opening tomorrow”

Sondheim once posed the question “Don’t you love farce?” which given the name of this blog is rather apt for me, and I can safely say that it is not a genre of which I have proven fond. I’ve given it several tries but I really wasn’t a fan at all of A Flea In Her Ear, Once Bitten or One Man Two Guvnors, though the Orange Tree’s Three Farces did hint at the possibilities within the form that I did actually find funny. Billington reckoned in his last review of One Man Two Guvnors that one “would had to have had a humour by-pass not to enjoy it” which seems a bit harsh – I’m not against people finding farce funny but senses of humour are individual and so different things make different people laugh.

So you’d be quite right to think there was little chance of me going to see Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, the Old Vic having apparently decided that farce is their Christmas go-to. But I’m a theatre addict, and I love Celia Imrie, so I plonked down £20 for a restricted view seat (which happened to have several empty seats next to it, which I would never recommend that you could sneakily upgrade yourself to…) and gritted my teeth in readiness. Continue reading “Review: Noises Off, Old Vic”