I give you “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn, a play about the theater that’s definitely done right. The title is shorthand for “noises heard from offstage,” but it’s also a take on the title of the play that’s being performed within the play, “Nothing On.” So what we have is a comedy performed by a group of actors about another group of actors performing a different comedy. And if that weren’t enough, we get to see it happen from in front of and behind the stage.
Confusing? Maybe on paper, but once you’re in the theater (where I really encourage you to be), it all comes together in an ingenious, lightning-fast, and wonderfully funny way. Indiana University’s Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance gives you that opportunity starting this week as they raise the curtain within a curtain for their production, directed by Murray McGibbon.
In “Noises Off,” we watch a troupe of B-list English actors presenting a bedroom farce in a little theater far from the glamour of London’s West End. As with any acting troupe, you have a wide range of big personalities, including Selsdon, the old chap who should have retired years ago. The plot of “Nothing On,” the show they’re presenting, is an archetype of naughty British comedy, but what goes on behind the scenes is the heart and soul of this show. To tell you how they frame it would spoil the joy of discovery, so I’ll just say that the stagecraft is a gem, the comic timing is top-notch, and the laughs come often.
“The second act is really a comedic mathematical puzzle,” McGibbon says. “So, as a director, you don’t want to try to make your own statement with it. It’s really very close to a finely tuned ballet, where you have to stick to the choreography or everything falls apart.” His cast of nine performs that comic choreography with precision and great teamwork. This isn’t one character’s play; it’s a true ensemble that thrives on the sharing of scenes.
The director added, “There have been some productions that have experimented with setting it in the U.S., but I think the whole theatrical tradition in Britain is crucial to the comedy. Comedy is about context. And this context has a delicate specificity to it.”
Though there is some innuendo in the play, it’s mostly harmless, making this a good outing for ages 13 and up. Pay special attention to the set design; it’s almost like a tenth character in the play. By the time the show’s over, you may never look at sardines the same way again.
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If you go
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance
WHAT: “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn
WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington
WHEN: 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday and March 1-5; 2 pm, March 5
TICKETS: $15-25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.
Reprinted with permission from the Herald Times. Read the original article here.