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Michael Frayn’s Zany Backstage Comedy “Noises Off” Is Performed at a Gallop with Lots of Slapstick

"Noises Off" runs June 10-26 at Theatre in the Park

"Noises Off" runs June 10-26 at Theatre in the Park

Theatre in the Park will close its 2010-11 “Ah, Theatre” Season with Noises Off, English playwright, screenwriter, and novelist Michael Frayn’s zany 1982 backstage comedy, performed at a breakneck pace and plenty of slapstick including flying sardines, on June 10-12, 16-19, and 24-26 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre in west Raleigh, NC.

According to Theatre in the Park:

“This hysterical comedy-within-a-comedy captures a touring theater troupe’s production of [the British sex farce] Nothing On in three stages: a dragging dress rehearsal, the boisterous opening performance, and an unbelievable performance toward the end of the run. Each performance is portrayed from behind the scenes, progressing from flubbed lines and missed cues in the dress rehearsal to mounting friction between cast members in the final performance.

“‘Although heightened, much of what you see happening onstage does sometimes happen during rehearsals and a run of a show,’ says director Ira David Wood IV, ‘Flubbed lines, huge egos, torrid ‘showmances’ … it’s all another day at the theater.’

“Take a fond look at the follies of theater folk, whose susceptibility to out-of-control egos, memory loss and torrid passionate affairs turn every performance into a high-risk adventure!”

In an exclusive interview, Noises Off director Ira Wood told Triangle Theater Review: “I first saw Noises Off (the [1992] movie) with my sister Evan [Rachel Wood] when we were teenagers. Being siblings that had grown up in theater together, we instantly fell into stitches. I read the actual script of the stage play soon after.

“Last year, when I heard Theatre in the Park was planning a season of plays to be centered around theater itself, I immediately suggested Noises Off,” Wood says.

He adds, “Noises Off is one of the funniest contemporary plays ever written. It is also one of the hardest to stage. The challenge of staging it is draining; but after watching our latest run-through, it is a very rewarding feeling seeing it come together.

“I feel the cast and crew’s hard work has really paid off for this particular production,” says Wood. “For example, the second act is like watching a well-timed and crafted ballet with its comedic physicalization, but a ballet made to look clumsy. The actors have had fun doing it, and I still laugh out loud in rehearsal watching it, but all in all it is a show made for the audience who really loves to laugh. Noises Off really is a one-of-a-kind comedy.”

Director Ira Wood notes, “Noises Off is about a troop of actors attempting to stage a production of a British sex farce called Nothing On, making the show really a play-within-a-play in three acts. In the first act, we meet the cast the night before opening night, when entrances and exits and scenery and prop tracking are all going horribly wrong. That leads the director of Nothing On, Lloyd Dallas [Tony Pender], to slowly begin to have a nervous breakdown as the first act continues.

“In the second act,” Wood explains “the troupe is on tour with Nothing On; and the actors’ personal and romantic relationships [create] chaos backstage [when they] go as far as to [chase] each other with an ax. Things start to get worse and worse in their performances.”

Wood says, “Act III is near the end of the run of the tour for the troupe. But one thing after another begins to go wrong during a performance, and the play-within-a-play begins to die a slow and hilarious death.”

Besides Tony Pender as temperamental director Lloyd Dallas, the Theatre in the Park cast for Noises Off includes Joanna V. Herath as forgetful late-middle-aged actress Dotty Otley, Rob Rainbolt as Dotty’s jealous boyfriend stuttering actor Garry Lejeune, Brook North as violence-averse nosebleed-prone actor Frederick Fellows, Staci Sabarsky as cheerful actress Belinda Blair, Lauren Flynn as overly emotional assistant stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor, Randall Stanton as elderly alcoholic actor Selsdon Mowbray, George M. Kaiser as overworked stage manager Timothy Allgood, and Sarah Bousquet as novice contact-lens-losing actress Brooke Ashton.

In addition to director Ira David Wood IV, the TIP creative team for this show includes technical director and set and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson, his wife costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson, properties manager Victor Rivera, sound designer Will Mikes, and stage manager Becca Easley.

Wood says, “The set is an additional character in Noises Off. With the show being a play-within-a-play, the first act is an English country estate. During the second act, the entire unit set rotates, and the action takes place ‘backstage.’ For the third act, it rotates again, so that the audience is seeing the country house. Stephen J. Larson constructed the two-storey set on a pivot, so turning is smooth and easy.”

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.

Ira Wood notes, “In some cases, I have seen the actors in Noises Off played British as well as American. We have made the choice of making the actors actually being from the Triangle area. [Doing that] involves taking a few liberties, changing a few location names, and adding some local theater jokes and references to the script.

“The choice was made to make our take [on Noises Off] a little different, to make the characters more identifiable to the audience as well as giving a wink to other local actors, directors, and theatergoers,” Wood explains. “… I think [the theatergoers] will especially enjoy our unique take — which doesn’t take anything away from the original idea, feel, theme and heart of Noises Off.

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.

“They say comedy is all in the timing,” says Noises Off director Ira Wood. “This is extremely true for noises off. One would say to an exact second of timing. Since Act II consists of the play Nothing On actually happening behind the scenery to the audience while Noises Off is playing on the actual stage to our real audience. The actors’ entrances and exits and transitions into each play have to be very precise. An actor taking three seconds longer on one entrance or exit can ruin a visual joke nine seconds later.

“We have also added more blocking than the original script calls for in Act II and in the rest of the show,” Wood points out. “Doing this as a cast and creative team involves a lot of time, work, effort, focus, sweat and, in some rare cases, even blood.”

Theatre in the Park presents NOISES OFF at 7:30 p.m. June 10 and 11, 16-18, and 24 and 25 and 3 p.m. June 12, 19, and 26 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $22 ($16 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 919/831-6058 or





The Play: (Wikipedia), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Internet Movie Database).

The Playwright: (Wikipedia), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Internet Movie Database).


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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