Noises Off (review). Anne Cox gets hooked on sardines in this classic farce.

Brian Rix would have said that the secret to a good farce is plenty of dropped trousers. For whatever reason, the sight of a de-bagged man used to be enough to start convulsive laughter in audiences.

By Anne Cox
Wednesday, 17th July 2013, 10:00 am
Danielle Flett and Neil Pearson in Noises Off
Danielle Flett and Neil Pearson in Noises Off

Director Lloyd Dallas, who almost loses his sanity trying to direct his provincial rep touring company, believes that there are only two things needed for a smash hit success – doors and sardines.

Michael Frayn’s now classic comedy masterpiece Noises Off came to our provinces this week when it opened at the Wycombe Swan and there were shoals of sardines plus an epic number of slamming doors.

Lindsay Posner’s Old Vic touring production thrusts its star name, Neil Pearson, to the fore. As exasperated director Lloyd Dallas he attempts to steer his bumbling cast of fading hams and aspiring divas, through the pratfalls of rehearsals before launching his play, Nothing On, onto an unsuspecting public.

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Neil Pearson in Noises Off

What he hadn’t bargained for was the fierce rivalries, petty jealousies, tears and tantrums that threaten to bring the curtain down on a rather mediocre first night in Weston-Super-Mare.

This hilarious comedy, a play within a play, takes us through the final last rehearsals and into the tour’s opening run - as seen from both backstage and front of house.

Pearson’s natural flare for comedy makes him immensely watchable. Whether he’s soft-soaping his cast in a bid to improve their performances or bending over to have cactus thorns extracted from his posterior he milks the role for every laugh he can get – and he gets them effortlessly. This is very much a starring vehicle for the TV and stage star despite it being an ensemble production.

He spends the first act in the auditorium with the audience trying to get his cast to remember both their lines and cues. It’s a thankless task and one which would probably put paid to any ideas the actor may have had about moving into directing.

On press night we were missing another versatile comic actor, Chris Larkin (so good in the stage version of Yes, Prime Minister) who usually plays earnest thesp Freddie. The remaining cast wasn’t the strongest I’ve seen but they worked hard to make this an enjoyable night’s entertainment.

The second act is played almost mutely with good, old fashioned slapstick proving the value of strong visual comedy. It’s a wonder any show gets onto the stage if this is a sample of what it’s like behind the scenes.

There’s lots of running up and down stairs, an impressive demonstration of which is given by an athletic David Bark-Jones as, you know, actor Gary, whose feet are tied together, while the remaining team hurl themselves through windows and doors with an exhausting display of energy. In this heat they’ll probably all be a stone lighter by Saturday when it closes at Wycombe.

You’ve a few days left to enjoy this delightfully old fashioned romp. For tickets call the box office 01494 512000 or visit