|Wicked fun from the cast of Noises Off|
KESWICK'S Theatre by the Lake lifted the curtain on their summer season in fine style with a performance of the classic farce, Noises Off.
In some ways this classic of English theatre should be a safe bet but the obituaries of many an am dram company have been underscored by an attempt at farce. It's tempting to think that perfoming a play where everything goes wrong is going to be easy. After all, if anything goes wrong the cast can just pretend it's part of the show! The truth, of course, is that it's one of the hardest genres of theatre. Getting a laugh during a play is an art, getting an audience laughing all the way through is a devil's own job.
Fortunately this production was in the safe hands of some Keswick stalwarts and laugh all the way through is precisely what the audience did. Noises Off is a play within a play - telling of a theatre troupe's performance of "Nothing On". The drama on stage is nothing compared with the drama going on behind the scenes and in Act II the stage revolves to reveal in all its horror the politics, bitchiness and confusion of what is happening back stage. Author Michael Frayn doffs his cap to the grand English tradition of farce by including lots of opening and shutting doors, dropping of trousers, mistaken identity and a tray or two of sardines. The audience can join in the jokes from the start but it's only when the director, Lloyd Dallas (Matthew Vaughan who appeared in Keswick's succesful run of Arsenic and Old Lace) chirps up from the audience stalls that they realise there's more to this farce than they might first think. Frayn says in the programme notes that "comedy is always funnier if you play it seriously" and as an oh-so-important director, Vaughan underlines the pomposity of a wannabe theatrical company which does indeed take itself seriously. There will no doubt be many members of drama groups chuckling away in the Keswick audience at the hissy-fits, mis-timed entrances and other in-jokes.
It's another Keswick faithful, Ben Ingles, playing the central role of Garry Lejeune who acts as the eye of the storm in the antics of Noises Off. Ingles brings his dancing skills to the fore as he runs, prances and falls around the stage - including a superb fall down a flight of stairs. The audience shares his exhaustion in the frantic scenes as much as they share his bewilderment at the play falling apart around him. Ingles portrays with delightful subtlety an actor facing the ultimate horror of actors going missing, others forgetting their lines and finally the whole script going out of the window.
Another welcome return to Keswick is actor Peter Macqueen (Scrooge of a previous Christmas production) who demonstrates his super comic talents. He has the audience laughing from the moment he walks on stage - indeed the manner of him getting on stage, or trying to get on stage, is usually enough to reduce the audience to tears of laughter. If any actors need a master class in how to make an entrance, just watch Macqueen at work in this production.
If Macqueen demonstrates how to walk on to stage and Ingles how to move around it, then Heather Saunders, playing blonde bombshell Brooke Ashton, shows how to teeter around the stage. Just a high-heeled shuffled across the boards was enough to get the audience giggling and frantic searches for lost contact lenses were enough to keep the laughs coming thick and fast.
Kate Layden as Dotty Otley, Fiona Drummond as Poppy, Jack Power as Frederick Fellowes, Benjamin Askew as Tim Allgood and Heather Phoenix as Belinda Blair complete the cast of this delightful production that will prove a memorable night out for every member of the family. This is a slick, fast-paced comedy where the laughs come fast and furious.
Director Stefan Escreet and designer Martin Johns manage to work out the entrances, exits and who's-who in this maelstrom without a missed note. It is the first in the canon of Keswick's Summer Season and is Keswick theatre at its best. It bodes well for the other shows opening over the next few weeks.
Please note there is, unusually, two intervals during this show - more than one member of the audience were wrong-footed by the 'ending' at the end of Act II!
Noises Off runs until November 9 at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Box office: 017687 74411 or visit www.theatrebythelake.co.uk.