SALT LAKE CITY — If I had to guess, I’d say that Noises Off! is one of the most oft-produced comedies in the community, college, and high school theatre canon—and for good reason. Skillfully written by Michael Frayn, the play provides ample opportunity for situational, physical, and sexual comedy. Under the direction of Michael Vought, the terrific ensemble of actors at Westminster College certainly succeed in entertaining.
Noises Off! is metatheatricality at its finest, a perfect example of a “play-within-a-play,” which is a device that not only provides the backdrop for much comedy, but also one that supplies plenty of fodder for dramatic commentary about theatre and the art, politics, human emotion, and the stereotypes behind them all. The characters in the play are the actors, director, stage manager, and set designer of another play titled Nothing On. The show opens while the characters are in the middle of their all-night technical rehearsal the day before Nothing On opens. The comedy in this act comes from their attempts to get blocking and dialogue right while searching for their characters’ motivation in addition to the humor provided by revelations of tangled romantic relationships among the cast and crew. There’s also the inherent comedy in the “comedy” they are rehearsing.
Laughs are plentiful in the first act, but they are multiplied in Act II, which takes the audience backstage during a performance of the show “rehearsed” during Act I. The tangled romantic relationships become irrevocably damaged as pregnancies are revealed and jealous rages come to the surface. All the while, the more “sane” actors and stage hands try to keep the show running as smoothly as possible, despite attempts by others to hijack the props and costumes.
Act III returns the audience to the performance of Nothing On to find the show nearing the end of its run. It is clear that the actors’ relationships remain strained, and their commitment to the show is waning. Riotous exploits backstage are evident, and the disasters onstage are abundant, catapulting the whole performance into a fury of comedy.
The comedic fury in Noises Off! only succeeds due to the hard work of the cast (and crew). There are so many doors that need to open and close in such rapid time that just contemplating it can make one dizzy. If there’s one requirement for Noises Off!, it is speed. The repeated slapstick requires a rapid pace to make it work really well, and this production certainly has it. The show does begin rather slowly, but that is necessary to portray the frustration of a technical rehearsal and to acquaint the audience with the plot of Nothing On so that the errors and omissions in the other acts will be more evident and laughable. Timing goes hand-in-hand with speed in this show, and the cast must be given an incredible amount of credit. It wasn’t perfect timing every time, but it was always good timing, and the slapstick physical comedy went off without a hitch.
Michael Vought’s seasoned direction delivers an intricate choreography in the show that would bring out the laughs even with a less competent ensemble. In fact, however, there are some superb teamwork performances on the Courage Theatre stage. The actors were all so terrific that, but for one exception, it is difficult to pick show stand-outs. That one exception is Ron Frederickson, who plays Selsdon, the geriatric drunk in the show. Frederickson is a veteran theatre professional, so his performance should be no surprise, but it is a delightful treat and a great contribution to the cast of Westminster students (and one Westminster alum; Patrick Kibbie as Lloyd, the director of Nothing On, is also a nice casting choice).
Each actor brought full commitment to their roles. Kelly Davis gave Dotty a wonderful arc from sanity to farcicality. Carlie Young smartly communicated Brooke’s superficiality. Mandi Titcomb’s nuanced performance as stage manager Poppy was the perfect foil to the female “actresses” in the show. Niklaas Duncan was a versatile Tim; Nikola Muckajev and Michael Calacino as Frederick and Garry capture the self-involved stage-actor stereotypes while giving their characters identities that move beyond typecasts. Finally, Natale McAneney as the gossipy Belinda gave an excellent performance as the one person trying to hold everything and everyone together. One more point of note on the acting: from my view in the theatre, microphones were not visible. They may have been carefully hidden, but my guess is that the actors were asked to utilize their own vocal projection skills. It was delightful to see.
Nina Vought’s set and costume design visually supported the production. The costumes were appropriate to the time period (late 1970’s or early 1980’s) and reinforced character identities. Her set design for the English country house was functional with all the necessary doors and curtains to open and close and props to assist in the slapstick. Given that Noises Off! is a play that draws attention to the unsung workhorses in theatre performance, it seems fitting to mention the other credits in the production. Spencer Brown as the Lighting Designer, Alysa Fratto as the Sound Designer, Taylor Hoffman as the Stage Manager, and Allisyn Thompson as the Assistant Stage Manager all help make this production a success.
One final note about attending a production at Westminster: it is an easy theatre to get to. The covered parking garage is right next to the theatre, which is especially inviting in this snowy season.