'Noises Off': a Comedy About the Theater

A Production of 'Noises Off'
 By Otterbein University Theatre & Dance from USA (Noises Off) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

England's Daily Telegraph reviewed the touring production of "Noises Off," calling it "the funniest comedy ever written." That's a bold claim, especially since we've met people who have seen the play and were not amused. They offered such opinions as:

  • "It's too long."
  • "Too much slapstick."
  • "I thought it was vulgar."

As we spoke with these unimpressed audience members, we learned that they had never been involved in the theater. Playwright Michael Frayn created "Noises Off " in the early 1980s. It is a love letter and an inside joke to those of us familiar with the thrilling and unpredictable nature of the stage.

Noise Off

"Noises Off " is a play within a play. It is about an ambitious director and his troupe of mediocre actors. The cast and crew are putting together a silly sex comedy titled, "Nothing On" - a single-set farce in which lovers frolic, doors slam, clothes are tossed away, and embarrassing hi-jinks ensue.

The three acts of "Noises Off " expose different phases of the disastrous show, "Nothing On":

  • Act One: On stage during dress rehearsal.
  • Act Two: Backstage during a matinee performance.
  • Act Three: On stage during a delightfully ruined performance.

Act One: the Dress Rehearsal

While the impatient director, Lloyd Dallas, trudges through the opening scene of "Noises On," the actors keep breaking character. Dottie keeps forgetting when to take her plate of sardines. Garry keeps challenging the stage directions in the script. Brooke is clueless about her fellow performers and constantly loses her contact lens.

Act One lampoons the common problems which typically occur during the rehearsal process:

  • Forgetting your lines.
  • Second guessing your director.
  • Misplacing your props.
  • Missing your entrances.
  • Falling in love with fellow cast members.

Yes, aside from all of the physical comedy, the conflict of "Noises Off " is intensified when several of the theater romances turn sour. Because of jealousy, double-crosses, and misunderstandings, tensions mount, and the performances of "Nothing On" go from bad to worse to wonderfully awful.

Act Two: Backstage Antics

The second act of "Noises Off " takes place entirely backstage. Traditionally, the entire set is rotated to reveal the behind the scenes events which unfold. It is fun to watch the same scene of "Nothing On" from a different perspective.

For anyone who has been backstage during a show—especially when something goes wrong—Act Two is bound to conjure a flood of hilarious memories. Despite the characters backstabbing one another, they somehow manage to get through their scene. But that's not the case with the final act of the play.

Act Three: When Everything Goes Wrong

In Act Three of "Noises Off,", the cast of "Nothing On" has been performing their show for nearly three months. They are seriously burnt out.

When Dottie makes a few mistakes during her opening scene, she just begins to ramble, making up lines from off the top of her head. The rest of the characters then make a series of mistakes:

  • Garry can't improvise his way out of a paper bag.
  • Brooke doesn't pay attention to the changes that are rapidly occurring—she just keeps doing her lines, even when they aren't appropriate.
  • The veteran actor, Selsdon, can't keep away from booze.

By the play's end, their show is a comical catastrophe—and the audience is rolling in the aisles, loving every moment.

If you have never experienced theater as an actor or a crew member, then perhaps "Noises Off " is simply an entertaining show with a lot of laughs. However, for those of us who "tread the boards," Michael Frayn's "Noises Off " might very well be the funniest play ever written.

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Your Citation
Bradford, Wade. "'Noises Off': a Comedy About the Theater." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/noises-off-comedy-about-the-theater-2713675. Bradford, Wade. (2020, August 27). 'Noises Off': a Comedy About the Theater. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/noises-off-comedy-about-the-theater-2713675 Bradford, Wade. "'Noises Off': a Comedy About the Theater." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/noises-off-comedy-about-the-theater-2713675 (accessed March 26, 2023).