Poster for the 2001 Broadway revival
|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. The idea for it came in 1970, when Frayn was 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.
Characters of Noises Off
- Lloyd Dallas: The director of a play-within-the-play, Nothing On. Temperamental, exacting and sarcastic. Involved with both Brooke and Poppy.
- Dotty Otley: A middle-aged television star who is not only the top-billed star but also one of the play's principal investors. Dating the much younger Garry.
- Garry Lejeune: The play's leading man, a solid actor who is completely incapable of finishing a sentence unless it is dialogue. Constantly stutters and ends sentences with "you know..." Dating Dotty and prone to jealousy.
- Brooke Ashton: A young, inexperienced actress from London. She pays no attention to others, either in performance or backstage, and persists in her role as scripted regardless of any interruption or mayhem. She is always losing her contact lenses, which she is blind without. Part of the Lloyd–Poppy–Brooke love triangle.
- Frederick (Freddie) Fellowes: Has a serious fear of violence and blood, both of which give him nosebleeds. Well-meaning, but lacks confidence and is rather dim-witted.
- Belinda Blair: Cheerful and sensible, a reliable actress and the company's defacto peacemaker. Something of a gossip, and a bit two-faced. Has a rather protective attitude towards Freddie.
- Selsdon Mowbray: An elderly, half-deaf "pro" with a long, storied career and a drinking problem. If he is not in sight while rehearsing, the stage crew must find him before he finds anything alcoholic.
- Poppy Norton-Taylor: Assistant Stage Manager and understudy to the female roles. Emotional, skittish and over-sensitive. Part of the Lloyd-Poppy-Brooke love triangle and, by act two, pregnant with Lloyd's baby.
- Tim Allgood: The over-worked and easily flustered Stage Manager, who must understudy, fix the set and run Lloyd's errands on top of his usual duties.
Characters of the play-within-the-play, Nothing On
- Mrs. Clackett (Dotty): The cockney housekeeper for the Brents' home. A hospitable, though slow-witted and slow-moving, chatterbox.
- Roger Tramplemain (Garry): An estate agent looking to let Flavia's and Philip's house.
- Vicki (Brooke): A girl Roger is attempting to seduce (or perhaps a girl trying to seduce Roger). Works for the tax authorities.
- Philip Brent (Freddie): Lives out of the country with his wife Flavia to avoid paying taxes and is on a secret visit.
- Flavia Brent (Belinda): Philip Brent's wife. She is dependable, though not one for household duties.
- Burglar (Selsdon): An old man in his seventies, breaking into the Brents' house.
- Sheikh (Freddie): Interested in renting the house.
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 and acknowledgements 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.
Nothing On is the type of play 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 (fictional) Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. 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.
In Act Three, we see 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 somehow 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 universally ecstatic 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, 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 December 17, 2015, and opened on January 14, 2016. The cast featured Andrea Martin (Dotty Otley), Megan Hilty (Brooke Ashton), Campbell Scott (Lloyd Dallas), Jeremy Shamos (Frederick Fellowes), David Furr (Gary 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 March 13, 2016, extending by one week due to popular demand.
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".
Awards and honors
Original Broadway Production
|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|
2001 Broadway revival
|2002||Tony Awards||Best Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Best Featured Actress in a Play||Katie Finneran||Won|
|Drama Desk Awards||Outstanding Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play||Katie Finneran||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle||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 Awards||Distinguished Performance of a Revival||Nominated|
2015 Broadway revival
|2016||Tony Awards||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 Awards||Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play||David Furr||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play||Megan Hilty||Nominated|
|Drama League Awards||Distinguished Revival of a Play||Nominated|
- Mehlman, Barbara K. "A CurtainUp Review". CurtainUp. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
- This is of course a joke by Frayn, which has caught out earlier Wiki-editors who have solemnly commented "it is uncertain what a posset mill might be. This may be a play on the phrase to mill a posset, attested in the Oxford English Dictionary as meaning to stir ingredients to make a posset." However, that comment would be typical of Frayn himself, and it is not impossible that he was the editor in question: the fake programme for Nothing On provided by the script includes its own explanation, as follows: "In a posset-mill production was maintained throughout the year by allowing the milk to run into a heated curdling chamber where the flow of incoming ale or vinegar was ingeniously harnessed to operate a simple kind of theatrical thundersheet. The product was then packed in small 'yoggy pots' made from the scrota of wild yogs".
- A posset was a medieval beverage made of curdled milk. See article on Round the Horne, a 1960s radio show which made posset a humorous word in English comedy.
- Multiple sources report that Act Two is set on opening night. The plot synopsis here describes the script published in 2000, in which Michael Frayn notes that the play has been rewritten at least seven times.
- "However, an Ashton-under-Lyne theatre named Royal is listed in the tour of a 1908 production". Lyceumtheatre.net. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Gans, Andrew. "Backstage Comedy 'Noises Off', Starring Andrea Martin and Megan Hilty, Returns to Broadway Tonight" playbill.com, December 17, 2015
- Staff. "The Verdict: Did Critics Open the Door—or Slam It—on Broadway's 'Noises Off'?" playbill.com, January 14, 2016
- Staff. "Roundabout's NOISES OFF Extends Broadway Run" broadwayworld.com, January 25, 2016
- "See Full List of 2016 Tony Award Nominations" Playbill, May 3, 2016
- "Hilarity Ensues Onstage and Behind the Scenes in NOISES OFF"
- "Noises Off... | review, synopsis, book tickets, showtimes, movie release date | Time Out London". Timeout.com. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "'Noises Off' (PG-13)". Washingtonpost.com. 20 March 1992. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "Theatre review: Noises Off at Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring". Britishtheatreguide.info. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
- The Hot Seat, by Frank Rich.