|Written by||Michael Frayn|
|Place premiered||Lyric Theatre, London|
|Subject||Play within a play|
Noises Off is a 1982 play by the English playwright Michael Frayn.
Frayn conceived the idea in 1970 while watching from the wings a performance of The Two of Us, a farce that he had written for Lynn Redgrave. He said, "It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind." The prototype, a short-lived one-act play called Exits, was written and performed in 1977. At the request of his associate, Michael Codron, Frayn expanded this into what would become Noises Off. It takes its title from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage.
Each of the three acts of Noises Off contains a performance of the first act of a play within a play, a sex farce called Nothing On. The three acts of Noises Off are each named "Act One" on the contents page of the script, though they are labelled normally in the body of the script, and the programme for Noises Off will include, provided by the author, a comprehensive programme for the Weston-super-Mare run of Nothing On, including spoof advertisements (for sardines) and acknowledgments to the providers of mysterious props that do not actually appear (e.g. stethoscope, hospital trolley, and straitjacket). Nothing is seen of the rest of Nothing On except for the ending of its Act 2.
Nothing On is the type of farce in which young girls run about in their underwear, old men drop their trousers, and many doors continually bang open and shut. It is set in "a delightful 16th-century posset mill", modernised by the current owners and available to let while they are abroad; the fictional playwright is appropriately named Robin Housemonger.
Act One is set at the technical rehearsal at the (fictional) Grand Theatre in Weston-super-Mare. It is midnight, the night before the first performance and the cast are hopelessly unready. Baffled by entrances and exits, missed cues, missed lines, and bothersome props, including several plates of sardines, they drive Lloyd, their director, into a seething rage and back several times during the run.
Act Two shows a Wednesday matinée performance one month later, at the Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. (Designed by Frank Matcham in 1891, the Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lyne was demolished in 1963.) In this act, the play is seen from backstage, providing a view that emphasises the deteriorating relationships between the cast. Romantic rivalries, lovers' tiffs and personal quarrels lead to offstage shenanigans, onstage bedlam and the occasional attack with a fire axe.
Act Three depicts a performance near the end of the ten-week run, at the (fictional) Municipal Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees. Relationships between the cast have soured considerably, the set is breaking down and props are winding up in the wrong hands, on the floor, and in the way. The actors remain determined at all costs to cover up the mounting chaos, but it is not long before the plot has to be abandoned entirely and the more coherent characters are obliged to take a lead in ad-libbing towards some sort of end.
Much of the comedy emerges from the subtle variations in each version as character flaws play off each other off-stage to undermine on-stage performance, with a great deal of slapstick. The contrast between players' on-stage and off-stage personalities is also a source of comic dissonance.
The play premièred at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London in 1982, directed by Michael Blakemore and starring Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington, and Nicky Henson. It opened to excellent reviews and shortly after transferred to the Savoy Theatre in the West End, where it ran until 1987 with five successive casts. It won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy.
On 11 December 1983, a production directed again by Blakemore and starring Dorothy Loudon, Victor Garber, Brian Murray, Jim Piddock, Deborah Rush, Douglas Seale, and Amy Wright opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where it ran for 553 performances. It earned Tony Award nominations for Best Play and for Blakemore, Rush, and Seale, and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble.
Noises Off has become a staple of both professional theatre companies and community theatres on both sides of the Atlantic. On 5 October 2000, the National Theatre in London mounted a revival, directed by Jeremy Sams and starring Patricia Hodge, Peter Egan and Aden Gillett, that ran for two years, transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End on 14 May 2001 with Lynn Redgrave and Stephen Mangan replacing Hodge and Egan, respectively. Sams' production transferred to Broadway, again at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, on 1 November 2001, with Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, Faith Prince, T. R. Knight, and Katie Finneran. The production was nominated for a Tony and Drama Desk Award as Best Revival of a Play, and Finneran was named Best Featured Actress by both groups.
Frayn has repeatedly rewritten the play over the years. The last revision was in 2000 at the request of Jeremy Sams. There are numerous differences between the 1982 and 2000 scripts. Some new sequences have been added (e.g., an introduction to Act Three, in which Tim, the Company Stage Manager, and Poppy, the Assistant Stage Manager, make simultaneous apologies – the former in front of the curtain, the latter over the PA – for the delay in the performance). Other sequences have been altered or cut entirely. References that tend to date the play (such as Mrs. Clackett's to the Brents having colour television) have been eliminated or rewritten.
A London production ran from 3 December 2011 to 10 March 2012 at the Old Vic Theatre, directed by Lindsay Posner and starring Jonathan Coy, Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson, Aisling Loftus, Amy Nuttall and Paul Ready. This production transferred to the Novello Theatre in the West End from 24 March to 30 June 2012, and then toured Britain and Ireland with a different cast.
A Broadway revival, produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, started in previews at the American Airlines Theatre on 17 December 2015, and opened on 14 January 2016. The cast featured Andrea Martin (Dotty Otley), Megan Hilty (Brooke Ashton), Campbell Scott (Lloyd Dallas), Jeremy Shamos (Frederick Fellowes), David Furr (Garry Lejeune), Rob McClure (Tim Allgood), Daniel Davis (Selsdon Mowbray), Kate Jennings Grant (Belinda Blair), and Tracee Chimo (Poppy Norton-Taylor). The revival ran its limited run through 13 March 2016, extending by one week due to popular demand. The production was nominated for 2016 Tony Awards for Best Revival of Play, Best Featured Actress for Martin and Hilty, Best Featured Actor for Furr, and Best Costume Design.
An Australian production was mounted at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, where it ran for three weeks as part of Queensland Theatre Company's 2017 season. After the season with QTC, the show then transferred to the Playhouse Theatre, where it ran from 8 July to 12 August with Melbourne Theatre Company. The cast featured Simon Burke as Lloyd Dallas, Emily Goddard as Poppy Norton-Taylor, Libby Munro as Brooke Ashton, Ray Chong Nee as Garry Lejeune, Hugh Parker as Frederick Fellowes, James Saunders as Timothy Allgood, Louise Siversen as Dotty Otley, Steven Tandy as Selsdon Mowbray and Nicki Wendt as Belinda Blair. In Australia it has been produced many times and in many places from 1982 to 2017.
The play returned for a short run at the Garrick Theatre, with previews from 27 September 2019 and the main production starting 3 October 2019.
A new production celebrating the play's 40th birthday and starring Felicity Kendal will be touring the UK in October 2022.
|Role||West End 1982||Broadway 1983||West End 2001||Broadway 2001||Old Vic Theatre 2011||Broadway 2016||West End 2019||West End 2023|
|Lloyd Dallas||Paul Eddington||Brian Murray||Peter Egan||Peter Gallagher||Robert Glenister||Campbell Scott||Lloyd Owen||Alexander Hanson|
|Dotty Otley||Patricia Routledge||Dorothy Loudon||Patricia Hodge||Patti LuPone||Celia Imrie||Andrea Martin||Meera Syal||Felicity Kendal|
|Garry Lejeune||Nicky Henson||Victor Garber||Aden Gillett||Thomas McCarthy||Jamie Glover||David Furr||Daniel Rigby||Joseph Millson|
|Brooke Ashton||Rowena Roberts||Deborah Rush||Natalie Walter||Katie Finneran||Amy Nuttall||Megan Hilty||Lisa McGrillis||Sasha Frost|
|Freddie Fellowes||Tony Matthews||Paxton Whitehead||Jeff Rawle||Edward Hibbert||Jonathan Coy||Jeremy Shamos||Richard Henders||Jonathan Coy|
|Belinda Blair||Jan Waters||Linda Thorson||Susie Blake||Faith Prince||Janie Dee||Kate Jennings Grant||Sarah Hadland||Tracy-Ann Oberman/Katherine Kingsley|
|Selsdon Mowbray||Michael Aldridge||Douglas Seale||Christopher Benjamin||Richard Easton||Karl Johnson||Daniel Davis||Simon Rouse||Matthew Kelly|
|Poppy Norton-Taylor||Yvonne Antrobus||Amy Wright||Selina Griffiths||Robin Weigert||Aisling Loftus||Tracee Chimo||Anjli Mohindra||Pepter Lunkuse|
|Tim Allgood||Roger Lloyd-Pack||Jim Piddock||Paul Thornley||T. R. Knight||Paul Ready||Rob McClure||Adrian Richards||Hubert Burton|
|Director||Michael Blakemore||Jeremy Sams||Lindsay Posner||Jeremy Herrin||Lindsay Posner|
Lloyd: Benjamin Whitrow. Dotty: Phyllida Law. Freddie: John Quayle. Belinda: Gabrielle Drake. Selsdon: Robert Flemyng. Tim: Robert Bathurst
Lloyd: Paul Hecht. Dotty: Carole Shelley. Freddie: Patrick Horgan. Belinda: Concetta Tomei. Selsdon: George Hall. Tim: Christian Clemenson.
Lloyd: Philip Franks, Nicholas Jones. Dotty: Selina Cadell, Cheryl Campbell, Lynn Redgrave. Brooke: Pandora Clifford. Freddie: Paul Bradley, Derek Griffiths. Belinda: Julia Deakin. Selsdon: Sylvester McCoy, Malcolm Tierney.
Lloyd: Leigh Lawson. Dotty: Jane Curtin. Garry: Paul Fitzgerald. Brooke: Kali Rocha. Belinda: Kaitlin Hopkins.
Main article: Noises Off (film)
In 1992, the play was adapted for the screen by Marty Kaplan. The film, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Nicollette Sheridan, Denholm Elliott, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker and Marilu Henner, received mixed reviews, with many critics noting it was too much of a theatrical piece to translate well to the screen. Frank Rich, who had called it "the funniest play written in my lifetime", wrote that the film is "one of the worst ever made".
Noises Off has been described as "the funniest farce ever written", and "the classic farce". It has been highly influential, possibly inspiring The Play That Goes Wrong series.
The Guardian and Chris Addison have praised its structure.
|1984||Tony Award||Best Play||Nominated|
|Best Featured Actor in a Play||Douglas Seale||Nominated|
|Best Featured Actress in a Play||Deborah Rush||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Play||Michael Blakemore||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding New Play||Nominated|
|Outstanding Director of a Play||Michael Blakemore||Won|
|Outstanding Set Design||Michael Annals||Nominated|
|Outstanding Ensemble Performance||Won|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Director||Michael Blakemore||Won|
|2002||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Best Featured Actress in a Play||Katie Finneran||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play||Katie Finneran||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play||Katie Finneran||Won|
|Outstanding Director of a Play||Jeremy Sams||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Distinguished Performance of a Revival||Nominated|
|2016||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Best Featured Actor in a Play||David Furr||Nominated|
|Best Featured Actress in a Play||Andrea Martin||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design of a Play||Michael Krass||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play||David Furr||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play||Megan Hilty||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Distinguished Revival of a Play||Nominated|
structurally the most perfect piece of comedy writing I have encountered
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