Noises Off, Alnwick Theatre Club. Written by Michael Frayn, directed by Jane Sanderson. Alnwick Playhouse, August 18-21.

Amateur dramatics groups are often criticised for not being ambitious, churning out the same old plays because the material is comfortable and easy to stage.

This could not be said of the Alnwick Theatre Club's latest production of Noises Off, one of their most ambitious and logistically complicated of late.

Michael Frayn's farce follows the cast and crew of the (fictional) sex comedy Nothing On as they undertake a UK tour. The play begins with a shambolic dress rehearsal and ends with a disastrous final leg at Stockton-on-Tees.

The logistical difficulty comes in the second act, in which the audience see all the 'noises off' which occur behind the set while the first act of Nothing On plays out.

Purely on a design level, the Theatre Club have excelled themselves. The set looks great, being robust and readily manoeuvrable while retaining the creaky aesthetic to reflect the tacky nature of the play-within-a-play.

A successful farce all comes down to pace, not just in delivering lines but in choreographing the large amounts of slapstick involved.

The first act takes a while to get going, but as soon as the set has been turned around Jane Sanderson's direction really comes alive. The actors move in a finely-tuned frenzy, and there are at least four very funny jokes happening on stage at any given time.

As well as creating something hilarious, the cast manage to convey the various subtexts of Frayn's work.

Just as Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound parodies crime thrillers as a means of savaging theatre critics, so Noises Off uses a tacky farce to poke fun at the process of touring and satirise the diva-esque mentality of the performers.

Robin Lewsey gives a great performance as long-suffering director Lloyd Dallas. Resisting the temptation to constantly fly off the handle, he lets the pressure built beautifully, delivering his lines with appropriate weariness and sarcasm.

Hannah Firth proves herself to be an adept physical comedian in the role of Brooke, and Tony Neale is hilarious as Selsdon, playing every forgotten line for maximum enjoyment.

Noises Off is a thoroughly entertaining show with a great cast who are firing on all cylinders. The production values are very good, the direction is meticulous and the performances are all first-rate. Above all it passes the acid test of a good farce, being perfectly paced and relentlessly funny.

Cast (alphabetically): Peter Biggers, Matt Bush, Jade Curran, Hannah Firth, Lisa Gladstone, Robin Lewsey, Mark Miller, Margaret Neale, Tony Neale, Andrew Nicholl.

Originally published as 'Ambition Pays Off for Theatre Club', The Northumberland Gazette, August 26th 2010, p. 13.


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