Michael Frayn’s Fast and Furious Backstage Sex Comedy “Noises Off” Sends the Sardines Flying

PlayMakers Repertory Company will present Michael Frayn's uproarious backstage comedy, "Noises Off," on April 4-8, 11-15, and 18-22 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill
PlayMakers Repertory Company will present Michael Frayn's uproarious backstage comedy, "Noises Off," on April 4-8, 11-15, and 18-22 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill

PlayMakers Repertory Company will present Michael Frayn's uproarious backstage comedy, "Noises Off," on April 4-8, 11-15, and 18-22 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill
PlayMakers Repertory Company will present Michael Frayn's uproarious backstage comedy, "Noises Off," on April 4-8, 11-15, and 18-22 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill

PlayMakers Repertory Company will conclude its 2011-12 main-stage season with Noises Off, English playwright, screenwriter, and novelist Michael Frayn’s zany 1982 backstage comedy, performed at a breakneck pace with plenty of slapstick, including flying sardines, on April 4-8, 11-15, and 18-22 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.

“I’ve seen several productions of Noises Off through the years, including the Broadway revival (2001) and a few regional productions,” recalls PlayMakers guest director Michael Michetti. “But I’ve never directed the play before, though it has always been on my ‘wish list.'”

He adds, “I think Noises Off is an impeccably crafted play, probably the greatest farce since Feydeau. There’s a good reason the play has been so often produced — it’s simply one of the funniest things ever written for the stage. And on top of that, it truly is a love letter to the theater.

“Michael Frayn has drafted nine characters who are all tremendously flawed yet lovable, and all immediately recognizable types from the world of the theater,” claims Michetti. “As the conflicts arise and the circumstances make performing the play-within-the-play seemingly impossible, the old showbiz axiom ‘The show must go on!’ is put to the test, and somehow these tenacious characters do go on. That’s what I love about actors, and that’s what I love about this play.”

After premiering in1982 at the Lyric Theatre in London, Noises Off made its Broadway debut, directed by Michael Blakemore, on Dec. 11, 1983 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where it played for 553 performances before closing on April 6, 1985. Nominated for four 1984 Tony Awards®, including Best Play and Best Direction of a Play, Noises Off won the 1984 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Director of a Play and Outstanding Ensemble Work.

The 1992 motion-picture version of Noises Off, directed by Peter Bogdanovich from a screenplay by Michael Frayn and Marty Kaplan, starred Carol Burnett as Dotty Otley, Michael Caine as Lloyd Fellowes, and John Ritter as Garry Lejeune.

Susan Cella as Dotty Otley

Andrea Cirie as Belinda Blair

Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Lloyd Dallas

Kelsey Didion as Poppy Norton-Taylor

Ray Dooley as Selsdon Mowbray

Brandon Garegnani as Tim Allgood

Katie Paxton as Brooke Ashton

Scott Ripley as Frederick Fellows

Matthew Schneck as Garry Lejeune

When Noises Off begins, says Los Angeles director Michael Michetti, “We are watching the opening moments of a [fictional] British bedroom farce entitled Nothing On. Toward the end of her opening monologue, Dotty Otley (Susan Cella) is interrupted by Lloyd Dallas (Jeffrey Blair Cornell), the director of the play-within-the-play.

“We quickly realize that we are, in fact, watching the final dress rehearsal of Nothing On,” explains Michetti, “and we’re soon introduced to the other members of the acting company: inarticulate Garry Lejeune (Matthew Schneck), pretty but dim Brooke Ashton (Katie Paxton), apologetic Frederick Fellows (Scott Ripley), busybody Belinda Blair (Andrea Cirie) and hearing impaired Selsdon Mowbray (Ray Dooley), as well as the overworked stage manager Tim Allgood (Brandon Garegnani) and assistant stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Kelsey Didion).”

Michetti says, “In Act One, we see some of the potential conflicts begin to arise as they continue to rehearse the play. By Act Two, they have been on the road for four weeks; and tensions amongst the company have reached the boiling point. We see the same portion of Nothing On performed that we saw in Act One, but this time the perspective is shifted (the set has been turned 180 degrees), and we’re watching the play from the vantage point of backstage.

“While the play is performed on the other side of the set (we hear the dialogue and catch glimpses of it through windows and doors),” says Michetti, “we watch the actors dealing with a play gone awry, fighting one another, and scrambling to make their next entrances on time — all played out silently.

“By Act Three, they’re playing their final performance after 12 weeks on the road — the set is again turned forward; and this time we see the play fall apart before our very eyes, while the determined actors all try in vain to keep it together,” Michael Michetti says.

In addition to director Michael Michetti, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Noises Off includes PRC producing artistic director Joseph Haj, assistant director Lavina Jadhwani, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer McKay Coble, costume designer David Mickelsen, lighting designer Charlie Morrison, sound designer/engineer Ryan J. Gastelum, dramaturg Mark Perry, and stage manager Sarah Smiley.

Guest director Michael Michetti
Guest director Michael Michetti

Director Michael Michetti says, “The set is a two-story English country home from the 16th century. And of course, because it’s a farce, there’s a stairway and a whopping total of eight doors. McKay Coble, our scenic designer, has created a set that’s a loving homage to theatrical design and construction from days gone by.

“These days a set like this would probably be constructed of steel,” says Michetti, “and surfaces like the stone would be covered in dimensional products (like vacuform) for a greater sense of realism. But because we have set this production in the late 1970s (when Michael Frayn began writing Noises Off, and the period when bedroom farces were most popular), [scenic designer McKay Coble] has chosen to have the set constructed of wood, and the surfaces all painted with traditional scenic painting techniques. This becomes even more apparent in Act Two when the set is turned around.”

Michetti adds, “The main portion of the set is on a turntable and rotates 180 degrees so that we see the back, from the perspective of backstage. It’s at this point that we see all the scenic construction techniques most clearly….

“The lighting for Acts One and Three look like conventional comedy lighting — bright and warm colors, with a few traditional techniques like footlights, which are no longer in fashion as they were in the 1970s,” explains Michetti. “In Act Two, however, we’re watching the action from backstage, so lighting designer Charlie Morrison is lighting the act to contrast between the cooler, dimmer atmosphere of the backstage world, and the bright, warm stage lighting on the other side of the set.

“Because of the decision to set the play in the late 1970s, our costume designer David Mickelsen has a great opportunity to poke fun at the fashions of that period,” says Michetti., “and I think the costumes are good for a few laughs on their own. Surprisingly, lots of these clothes are back in style now, so David has been able to find many of them new and off the rack. But expect to see platform shoes and flared trousers and topstitching and a number of other kitschy fads of the period….

“Staging a farce is always complicated because of the challenges of the physical activity (lots of climbing stairs and slamming doors) and the need for a frenetic pace and clockwork timing,” claims director Michael Michetti. “But the challenges of Noises Off are increased because of the layers of reality — the ‘on stage’ farce of Nothing On, and the unintentional, off stage farce of Noises Off. Those contrasts require differentiation between characters as well as subtle shifts in the playing style, all of which pose additional challenges for the actors. Which, I might add, they’re handling remarkably.”

He adds, “I warned my cast early on that I don’t do ‘pity laughs’ — those laughs that members of the production team often do in the rehearsal room whether or not the moment is truly funny, intended to buoy the actors. But the great joy of this play and this brilliant cast is that they do make me laugh — I have found myself frequently laughing myself silly in the rehearsal room. So I hope you’ll come prepared to leave your troubles behind and have a great, lighthearted night at the theater.”

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents NOISES OFF at 7:30 p.m. April 4-6 Previews, 7:30 p.m. April Opening Night Gala, 2 p.m. April 8, 7:30 p.m. April 10-13, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 14, 2 p.m. April 15, 7:30 p.m. April 17-21, and 2 p.m. April 22 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $10-$35, except $45 evening show and gala reception on April 7th.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://playmakersrep.org/tickets.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, miwashin@email.unc.edu, or http://playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/noisesoff.

STUDY GUIDE (compiled by the Utah Shakespeare Festival):  http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Noises/noises.html.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/.

BLOG (PlayMakers Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo/currentparking.

NOTE 1: There will be FREE post-performance discussions with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors on Wednesday, April 11th, and Sunday, April 15th.

NOTE 2: There will be a 10:30 a.m. $8.50-per-person student matinee on Thursday, April 12th; but it is SOLD OUT. For details, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/outreach/matinees.

NOTE 3: There will be an open-captioned performances at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 14th (click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption for details).

NOTE 4: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 17th, show, which will also be sign-language interpreted (click http://www.playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess for more information about these All Access Performances).

NOTE 5: The N.C. Psychoanalytic Foundation (http://www.ncpsychoanalysis.org/), the Lucy Daniels Foundation (http://www.ldf.org/home/), and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society (http://www.ncpsasoc.org/) will sponsor “Mindplay: A 50-minute Hour,” a FREE psychoanalytic discussion led by Roni Cohen, PhD, after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21st, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22nd, performances.


The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noises_Off (Wikipedia) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=6602 (Internet Broadway Database).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

The Film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105017/ (Internet Movie Database).

The Playwright/Screenwriter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Frayn (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7726 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0292450/ (Internet Movie Database).

The Director: http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=8149fef0-9b74-4df8-997f-099ab2862aa1 (PlayMakers Repertory Company).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).