March 29, 2014
"Noises Off" is a 1982 play by British playwright Michael Frayn. I have vague memories of seeing the film version in the early 1990s, starring Michael Caine, Carol Burnett and John Ritter. I do not recall the exact story anymore, but I knew it was about the funny goings-on backstage while an actual play was being performed onstage.
This year, Repertory Philippines has chosen this funny farce to be its third offering this season. Yes, it is only March and this is already Rep's third production (after the suspenseful "Wait Until Dark" and the bitter "August Osage County"). This time they tackle all-out comedy, and I was eager to see how they would stage this play within a play.
The play is about a particularly disastrous touring production of a sex comedy entitled "Nothing On." This was about a couple who hides from the tax man by taking a vacation in their country house unannounced. Their housekeeper, a real estate agent and his sexpot girlfriend/client, and an elderly burglar make their supposedly quiet getaway a riotous comedy of errors. The director and the actors in the cast performing this play are all self-important neurotics who have secret love affairs with each other, thus adding to the mayhem. "Noises Off" has three acts, with the whole thing running for three hours, with two ten-minute intermissions.
The first act is a rather straightforward run through of "Nothing On", their final technical dress rehearsal before opening night. This was done so that we know what should really take place on stage, as we witness the perfect cueing of scenes and location of specific props. For the second act, the entire central set piece is rotated around to reveal an elaborate backstage set. The whole scene was run through another time, but this time we see the topsy-turvy shenanigans backstage. The actors struggle to get their cues, lines and props straight onstage, while everyone gets on each other's nerves backstage. The third act is supposed to be one of their final shows, if not the final. Here, the personal conflicts among the actors go completely haywire as the chaos and anarchy actually go onstage.
The story is a challenge for all the actors because they all play two roles: that of a hammy stage actor and that of the crazy character that actor plays. Oftentimes, the two characters they play are very different from each other, so they would have to switch from character 1 to character 2 by the snap of a finger, and that would add to the wackiness of the entire situation.
I confess I recognized only three members of the cast while I was watching.
Of course, I knew veteran stage actor Chinggoy Alonso, who played director Lloyd Dallas. He could play this authoritative character blindfolded, like second nature to him. So real and effortless.
I also knew Lorenz Martinez, who played actor Garry, who played the role of the real estate agent Roger. It was Garry's secret affair with Dotty and his extreme jealousy that was the root of all the misfortune, Martinez played this role with glee. His character had the most physical comedy moments.
I was so surprised to recognize Carla Guevara-Laforteza in the role of newbie actress Brooke, who plays a sexy bimbo named Vicki. It was unthinkable that the actress who played the good fairy Light in "Bluebird of Happiness" is now traipsing onstage with nothing more than a skimpy black lingerie and thigh-high stockings. Now that is versatility for you! She is hilarious!
I know the name of Shiela Valderrama-Martinez but did not recognize here as the sensible actress Belinda, who plays the sensible wife Flavia. Of course I know the name of theater veteran Paul Holme, but I did not immediately recognize him the way he looked as the drunk unreliable actor Selsdon, who played the burglar.
The other members of the cast whom I did not recognize are also new names to me.
Frances Makil Ignacio plays actress Dotty, who plays the smart-aleck housekeeper Mrs. Clackett. By the curtain call, she seemed apparently an esteemed member of the cast since she took a bow at the center beside Chinggoy Alonso during the curtain call. She is also billed first in posters. I apologize that I did not know her till now. I did not like the unfunny way her character was written for the third act, so I did not really enjoy her Mrs. Clackett there.
Gerard Sison plays the flamboyant actor Freddie, who plays error-prone Philip, the owner of the house. This guy was really very funny, maybe because his kooky character, between having a plate of sardines glued to his hand or having his trousers falling to his ankles, had the most funny moments as written.
The backstage crew of "Nothing On" Poppy and Tim are played by Peachy Atilano and Nico Dans respectively. I thought Atilano seemed miscast because she looked too young for her role. Dans was alright as the abused stage manager. Seeing how they countdown to the curtain opening was very interesting, especially how Frayn made even that mundane matter so funny.
Overall, the British farce still plays well even thirty years after it had been written. I would admit it did feel a bit dated at certain parts. The third act, with all its hilarious moments, almost feels like overkill of a good idea, since the first two acts already seemed good enough as they are. Act 2 is the best for me.
I admit the fact that I did not know a lot of the actors also affected my overall appreciation. This would have been so much more exciting with an all-star cast of Rep stalwarts. I think the audience energy will also affect your enjoyment of the play. At the matinee I watched this afternoon, the laughter was not exactly rollicking among the audience. The two and a half hour length of the play may also be a factor in this regard.
Despite the blurb in the flyers that this show is suitable for all ages, I think maybe not because of there is quite a bit of raunchy adult humor. I personally had fun, but not everyone may not enjoy the witty wordplay. The jokes were funny, but rather old-fashioned in a sense, lacking the bite of the more current styles of theatrical comedy as that in, let's say, "Avenue Q" or "August Osage County".
As with all the past Rep productions this season, the set design is top notch! In that first intermission break, it was quite an awesome kick to witness the whole set turn around in its giant lazy-susan to reveal the backstage set for Act 2. It was so good that we can see some of the action "onstage" while the main focus was action "backstage". Something you really have to see. Congratulations to director Miguel Faustmann, who just tackled suspense earlier this year with "Wait Until Dark", following it up now with a slapstick comedy this time with "Noises Off".
"Noises Off" shall run from March 28 – April 13, 2014 and April 25-27, 2014 with shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and matinee shows on Saturdays and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. All performances are at Onstage, 2/F, Greenbelt 1, Paseo de Roxas cor. Legazpi St., Makati City.