Review: Genius on show in an amazing Noises Off

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Noises Off, presented by Bearpit Theatre Company at the Bear Pit Theatre, Rother Street, Stratford

Have you ever wondered what goes on backstage while you are watching a performance? What do the cast really think of each other? Are those lovers really in love; or is there something else going on between those two arch enemies?

Michael Frayn’s brilliant play reveals all. The crew are in rep’, on a seemingly endless tour of every small town theatre in Britain. Their director, Lloyd Dallas (Graham Underhill), temperamental and philandering, tries to keep them in order. But it’s like herding cats. The play they are performing, a dreadful farce called Nothing On, has all the clichés: a pretty girl in her underwear, gentlemen’s trousers that won’t stay on, a daft maid, entrances and exits, and so on. But it’s behind the scenes that the real action lies. The cast are riven with affairs and jealousies, yet somehow they keep it together: until one night in Stockton-on-Tees, when it all boils over.

The essence of farce is timing. When you have a farce-within-a-farce it’s got to be timed down to the nano-second, every nuance, every expression just right. And in Vanessa Comer’s immaculate production it is. I sat there amazed as the characters whizzed on and off, in and out of doors, their theatrical masks now on, now off.

You have to be a good actor to act this badly (when it’s required), and the cast are all very good actors. There’s not one I couldn’t praise. But it’s what goes on backstage that drives what we see in front. And it’s here that Bearpit’s genius really shows.

* Noises Off runs until Saturday March 12. Call 01789 403416 for tickets.