THEATRE audience will be left in hysterics - as they have for the past 40 years - when Noises Off comes to the North West starting next week.
The farce by Michael Frayn, tells the story of a hapless touring theatre company as it struggles to stage a fictional comedy Nothing On. The pace is frenetic throughout, the cast is falling apart, doors open and close and slapstick often threatens to derail the whole proceedings.
But don’t be fooled by all the apparent mayhem. Behind all the chaos is a production of almost military precision.
“If you get one thing wrong then genuine chaos will follow,” said Matthew Kelly, one of the stars of the show which is in Blackpool next week and then later in the month at the Lowry in Salford.
“It can be a line wrong, a prop in the wrong place, or just something slightly mistimed and it could all just fall apart.
“That’s why rehearsals were so demanding. You really do have to drill it so that it all becomes second nature. It means that there is a difficult gestation period but once you’ve got it down it suddenly becomes very enjoyable.”
Matthew plays Selsdon Mowbray, an old actor with a drink problem.
“This is the 40th anniversary production and do you know I was invited to take over from Nicky Henson in the original production,” he said. “It was the main part and involves falling down stairs. I went to watch Nicky and he was just so good I thought there’s no way I’m following him. Now I’m the old drunk which suits me down to the ground.”
The current production includes a number of familiar faces including Lisa Goddard and Simon Shepherd, best known for Peak Practice on TV.
“It is a fantastic company,” said Matthew. “We are having a great time with this.
“It’s said to be the funniest farce ever written in the English language and you can see why.
“The good thing too, even though it took some rehearsing, is that it is pretty much actor-proof. It’s such a clever piece of writing.”
Michael Frayn reported ly got the inspiration for the play while watching Lynn Redgrave from the wings in another show he had written called The Two of Us.
He realised that it was funnier to watch from behind the scenes than from the audience and decided to include that in a future work.
Noises Off is divided into three acts starting with the dress rehearsal before the show goes on tour. The second act, seen from backstage, is at a matinee performance after the run has begin and cracks are beginning to appear and act three visits the show approaching the end of a 10-week run when relationships between the cast have completely broken down, the set doesn’t work, the props are broken and the farce has become just that.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been in a production that’s been as bad as that,” laughed Matthew. “To be honest I always get on with everyone in whatever company I’m part of. What’s the point of disrupting everything?
“Actually I genuinely love the company of actors. On the road they become your family and actors have such a generous spirit. If you didn’t get on the production would very quickly become just like the one in the play but from my experienfe, touring’s not like that.”
Although he celebrated his 90th birthday recently Michael Frayn is still involved in the production.
“He has re-written a couple of things from the original which had become inappropriate this day and age,” said Matthew. “He’s always been very sympathetic to the social morays of the time. He’s still the show’s greatest supporter and he has said that this is the best production of it he’s see. But then he probably says that to everyone!”
Matthew who will forever be known to TV audiences for hosting Stars In Their Eyes has had a hugely successful career both on stage and TV. And bringing Noises Off to Blackpool and Manchester gives him a particular pleasure.
“I’m an Urmston lad at heart,” he said, “so to get back to Manchester - or should I say Salford - is always good. I’m still president of Urmston Musical Society you know.
“And I love the Grand at Blackpool. It’s a beautiful old Matchan theatre. I remember we’d go to St Anne’s on holiday every year and me and my brothers would gaze across at the lights of Blackpool from the sand dunes. We’d ask ‘why can’t we do there on holiday?’ and my mum and dad would just say we couldn’t afford it.”
Although more than 40 years old, Noises Off is still leaving audiences in stitches every night.
“You don’t have to understand it to enjoy it,” said Matthew. “I remember my grandsons came over from Australia when I was in the show in the West End. They were 13 and 11 and had no cultural references whatsoever to rely on and they thought it was the funniest show they’d ever seen.
“It’s just very funny, very joyful and you don’t have to understand what it is about to have your spirits lifted.
“I suppose it is a love letter to the theatre in a way. But it is tremendous fun to be part of.”
Noises Off, Grand Theatre Blackpool, Tuesday, October 3 to Saturday, October 7 (www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk) and The Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, October 17 to Saturday, October 21. Details from www.thelowry.com