Noises Off switches audiences on

I was induced to scrabble about in the Old Vic booking system to find tickets for the almost sell-out show, Noises Off, by a description of it as “directed with chaos and love”.  That and the Independent said it was “Probably the most side-splitting play ever written…” – it sounded like a recipe for a good time. And it was. The fact that I went to a matinee performance though meant that it felt a little bit like the last hurrah for some of us. Apparently, mid-week matinees are the domain of the retired and the OAP; I may have been the youngest person in the audience by around 45 years. Fortunately, Noises Offwas more than up to the challenge of catering to an audience with varying control of their bladders.Celia Imrie was the face that most would recognise, but brilliant as she was, she was also working with a cast who could match her. The first act took us through a shambolic skin of the teeth dress-tech-rehearsal punctuated by a failure to take on or off the ubiquitous plate of sardines, before the second act slammed us into full-on physical comedy. The necessity of the slower pace of the first act became obvious; having laid out the idea of the play, the set reversed itself and we watched from backstage as the precarious balance of  relationships between the characters unravel hilariously and the cast snipe at each other increasingly murderously . One character chases another with an axe, whisky is confiscated, hidden, found, drunk and confiscated again. Finally, the last show of the tour is shown from the front of the stage, and with the harmony of the cast in tatters, the production descends into utter mayhem. As the curtain fell, the audience rose for a standing ovation; or they would’ve if most of them hadn’t recently had hip replacements.

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