MATTHEW Kelly is the only surviving member of the cast of Noises Off, which I last reviewed at the Theatre Royal in Bath almost a year ago.
This time, the empty seats told their own story as Lindsey Posner’s production came around on tour again with Kelly reprising his role as the bumbling burglar Selsdon Mowbray.
He returns with a completely new cast, including Liza Goddard as Dotty Ottley playing housekeeper Mrs Clackett, Simon Shepherd as the director Lloyd Dallas, and Dan Fredeburgh, as leading actor Garry Lejeune.
They are supported by Simon Coates as Frederick Fellowes, Lucy Robinson as Belinda Blair, and youngsters Lisa Ambalavanar as Lejeune's love interest Brooke Ashton, Nikhita Lesler as stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor, and Daniel Rainford as stage-hand Tim Allgood.
Last time, I wrote that Noises Off, one of the greatest British comedies ever written, was still as fresh as when it was first staged in 1982. This time around, it’s looking rather tired and dated.
Despite Michael Frayn’s comedy classic opening in Bath on Tuesday (September 19) with a stellar cast many theatre-goers seem to have given it a miss seeing that it was here less than a year ago.
Frayn’s celebrated play serves up a riotous double bill, a play within a play, hurtling along at breakneck speed. It follows the on-and-off-stage antics of a touring regional theatre company as they stumble their way through the fictional farce, Nothing On.
The play opens with Dallas directing the shambolic final rehearsal before the opening night in Weston-Super-Mare, before moving on to a disastrous matinee in Ashton-Under-Lyne seen entirely, and hilariously silently, from backstage.
After what seemed to be a long pause, it opens for the third act, the brilliantly catastrophic final performance in Stockton-on-Tees.
Yes, it’s a bit of a hoot from beginning to end, given the physical slapstick, missed entrances and fluffed lines, but comedy has thankfully moved on in the meantime.
After a slow start in Act One, Frayn’s award-winning farce finally gets into its stride in Act Two with the backstage antics at Ashton-under-Lyne as the cast’s relationships founder during a gruelling provincial tour, leaving Lejeune trying to murder Fellowes.
Liza Goddard excels as the elderly regional actor on her final tour, staggering around the stage with a plate of sardines in hand and forgetting her lines.
Simon Shepherd, as production director Dallas, and Dan Fredeburgh, as grandstanding actor Lejeune, are both excellent in their leading roles.
However, I’m not sure that Lloyd’s misogynistic bullying of the cast and his gaslighting of pregnant Poppy sits well in today’s world, given the social movement in recent years.
Simon Coates gives a new pathos to the role of Frederick Fellowes, played as past his best and struggling to keep up with younger cast members.
Lucy Robinson as Belinda Blair is an excellent foil to Coates’ Fellowes, as the production of Nothing On disintegrates as other actors fall out behind the scenes.
Matthew Kelly, as the bumbling burglar Selsdon, plays the familiar role of the alcoholic actor constantly in search of another bottle but always manages to remember and deliver his lines with panache.
I thought the youngsters, particularly Lisa Ambalavanar as highly-strung Brooke Ashton, also did well to ham up the slapstick comedy.
While appearing seemingly timeless, Noises Off is beginning to look a little dated. Time to give it a rest, maybe?
Noises Off appears at the Theatre Royal Bath to Saturday (September 23). To book, contact the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 or book online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk