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Door-Slammer Farce With A Clever Twist
on March 27, 2011
Although he critically lauded for a number of novels and plays, Michael Frayn is most specifically known as the author of NOISES OFF, an extremely popular play that had successful runs in London and New York and which has performed by virtually every professional, university, and community theatre group on the face of the earth, all the way from Finland to China.
In a general sense, NOISES OFF is basically a classic door-slammer farce, which presents a host of characters rushing around the stage and dodging in and out of various rooms in a series of humorous and increasingly confusing misunderstandings. But Frayn gives the genre a memorable twist: the play is about the performance of a play that goes hideously awry. Act One finds the director rehearsing the cast on the stage, and although the play opens tomorrow the cast seems remarkably ill-prepared, dropping lines, misplacing props, and only toward the end of the play's first act seeming to get things together. Time passes, the play opens, and in Act Two we see the same act performed--only this time from back stage. Romantic complications have set in and the cast is in an uproar, and while we hear their voices as they "perform" on the "stage," our backstage view allows for a fast and furious and almost entirely silent war between various actors. Still more time passes, and in Act Three we again see the stage from the audience point of view. Unfortunately, by this time the entire performance has gone to hell in a handbasket, and even the stage curtains collapse on the players, leaving them to wallow helplessly.
A script is basically a blue print for a performance and not really intended to be read. As such, it is often very difficult for the layman to read a playscript and have the faintest idea of how it actually works on stage. This is especially true of farce, and it particularly true of Michael Frayn's NOISES OFF, which doesn't read "funny." There is some amusement to be had in reading Act One, during which the director struggles with the cast; there is still more amusement to be had in reading Act Three, when the performance completely collapses. But Act Two is so extremely technical that it will be the rare reader who can get so much as a giggle out of it. Whatever its merits, this is really a play that is better seen than read.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer