Noises Off: backstage shenanigans and lovers’ quarrels


Bottom: Selsdon Mowbray (Lily Mathey), Belinda Blair (Shamini Balasubramanian) Top: Brooke Ashton (Sarah Adams) and Freddie Fellowes (Standy Johnson)

Stories within stories are used by famed writers like Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte and even Geoffrey Chaucher. In the case of “Noises Off”, a play within a play, celebrated English playwright Michael Frayn uses this complex device in order to provide the audience with a belly-aching laugh. Inspired by the comedic nature of the backstage happenings for one of his plays, Frayn wrote Noises Off, which first premiered in 1982 at the Lyric Theatre in London.

Noises Off is a farcical comedy that is set during a theater production of a fictional play called “Nothing On”. The play is divided into three acts, each more chaotic than the next. The first act is set at midnight during a technical rehearsal before the play premieres. Unfortunately, the rehearsal does not go well with crew members forgetting their lines, losing their contacts and forgetting their cues sending their director Lloyd Dallas (senior Ryder Harris) into an angry fit. By the second act, the set is moved backstage during an actual performance, where the audience is privy to more drama. Actor Gary Lejeune (senior Lorenzo Isaacs) becomes jealous after mistaking his co-star Freddie Fellowes (senior Standy Johnson) as having feelings for his girlfriend, fellow actress, Dotty Otley (senior Cece Labowe). Besides the romantic squabbles, props and cues are bungled, actor Selsdon Mowbray (junior Lily Mathey) cannot be found, stage manager Tim Allgood (senior Carolina Garcia) buys a dangerous cactus and the assistant stage manager, Poppy Norton-Taylor (senior Isabelle Le) attempts to tell Lloyd that she’s pregnant with his baby. By the third act, the play is set during one of the final showings of Nothing On. However, with the cast and crews’ relations deteriorating and the set completely falling apart, they must all abandon the whole plot of the play which results in some hilarious dialogue and sequences.

Dotty Otley played by senior Cece Labowe

Directed by Irvine High drama teacher, Jonathan Mesisca, I had the privilege of watching the Sardines Cast on Wednesday, Nov. 17 (the Doors Cast performs on the 16, 18 and a matinee on the 20). Admittedly, when I found out that the play was going to be a comedy, I was a little skeptical about how the actors would pull it off. Like all things, comedy is subjective, and when jokes are delivered or timed incorrectly they can be flat or even corny. The Sardines Cast completely upended all of my expectations. Each of the actor’s timing with the delivery of the lines, as well as their mimicry of British mannerisms contributed to the whole comedic nature of the play eliciting a satisfying guffaw from the audience. What is even more impressive is the fact that the actors performed the entirety of the two-hour play in British accents. At times the accents were a little difficult to understand, but it did not detract or necessarily confuse the audience, as the story line is relatively easy to follow.

In addition to the amazing performance, the set design was impressive. Like other theatrical and movie productions of Noises Off the set was built with multiple doors both in the upper level and the lower level of the house, and stairs tucked in the corner of the viewer’s left-hand side. Furthermore, the set could also be rotated, in order to provide the setting for act two of the play which is set backstage. What is interesting and most noticeable about this production, however, is the color chosen for the walls. Unlike other productions which typically go for brown or wooden colors, the set was painted with a dark, rich red. This decision proved incredibly wise, because not only did the color add to the professionalism of the set, but it also helped contrast the props and costumes the actors utilized, allowing them to stand out. The richness of the red also helped to emphasize the dramatic passions of the characters. Though the play was a comedy, the feelings of anger Brooke Ashton (senior Sarah Adams) expresses toward their lover and director Lloyd, accents their emotions and the hilarity of the scene. Belinda Blair’s (junior Shamini Balasubramanian) kindness and sensitivity toward the other actors is also accented by the vividness of the red.

Poppy Norton-Taylor played by senior Isabelle Le

The lighting and music was also commendable. In the first act, when there is a slight mischief between the actors and their interactions with their director, the stage is illuminated in a bright light that creates a cheery atmosphere. By the second act, when the audience sees the ongoing deterioration of the cast and crews’ relations, the lights become a dusky purple. The color helps to transport the audience into the dark backstage, as well as emphasize the extravagance and storming emotions of the cast and crew. The music, which was played during the opening, closing and intermissions, were filled with jazz notes and percussions that perfectly represented the chaotic nature of the play.

Overall, the play was incredibly entertaining and definitely something I would recommend people to watch. In the director’s note in the Playbill, Mesisca writes, “if ever there was a time we needed a good laugh, it’s now!” and I could not agree more. The play delivers all the right punchlines with a few naughty ones.