When the lights blew during Jeremy Herrin’s production of Noises Off, it wasn’t yet another misstep in farce-within-a-farce Nothing On – rather reality catching up with events on stage. The technical mishap brought an extra frisson of metatheatricality to proceedings.
Michael Frayn’s play was first performed at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1982. Herrin’s homecoming production has many hilarious moments and Max Jones’ Home Counties living-room set is pure 1980s Laura Ashley, with no shortage of doors to slam. There is nothing as subjective as humour, however, and Herrin can’t stop the jokes from beginning to wear thin after we watch three versions of the same first act play out, nor the very, many actor-y exclamations of “darling” and “my love”.
There are some strong comic performances among the troupe of hammy actors. Meera Syal is rather subdued as Dotty Otley but Jonathan Cullen manages uncannily to channel the delivery and mannerisms of the late Paul Eddington as Freddie; Debra Gillett is wonderful as chirpy mother hen and resident gossip Belinda; Lloyd Owen is like a time bomb waiting to explode as the sardonic director on the verge of murdering everyone.
Recently in The Stage, Andrzej Lukowski examined the demise of middlebrow, middle-class plays in London, citing the Lyric Hammersmith as a key player in this change. Noises Off, however, is the very definition of “a fun night out”. Physical comedy is one of the hardest things in theatre to pull off and Herrin’s cast manages it admirably.