Noises Off_Pamela Raith Photography

Judging by the sold out audience at Oxford Playhouse last night, the majority were already fans of Michael Frayn‘s initial and highly successful run of Noises Off, which first premiered back in 1982.

Director Lindsay Posner seizes this enduring popularity and runs with it, projecting the farce as an homage to the 1980s, framing rather than shaming the era, complete with young secretaries in suspenders, tax evaders and unfaithful directors scooting across the stage.

But that is also to underestimate the lure of playwright Michael Frayn‘s uproarious script, because farce, by its very nature, is accessible and obvious to all. All you have to do is sit back and laugh, revel in the mishaps and howl as the play descends into abject mayhem. And that’s what we did, regardless of age.

Noises Off – Pamela Raith Photography

Frayn dreamt up the Noises Off concept backstage one day when he realised the play he was watching was funnier from behind than in front. Its success in the West End and Broadway then set the precedent for the likes of The Play That Goes Wrong and all its incarnations. In short, it’s still funny.

to maintain this degree of havoc takes some doing, so respect to the dedicated cast who continue to slam doors, issue plates of sardines, fall down stairs, dress up, whack each other with axes and telephones, while shedding clothes like snakes

And so Noises Off’s three acts become self-explanatory; the first a dress rehearsal which reveals how ill-prepared Otstar Productions are for their tour of bedroom farce Nothing On, the second backstage halfway through a matinee at Ashton-under-Lyne, and lastly the cast’s final undoing at the end of their ten-week run, in Stockton-on-Tees.

That the fun is about to unfold, and pandemonium break loose, is palpable from the word go, the scenes unfolding cataclysmically as tempers flare, the cast’s initial enthusiasm deflating with each curtain raise.

Liza Goddard as housekeeper Dotty Otley. Noises Off. Pamela Raith Photography

But to maintain this degree of havoc takes some doing, so huge respect to the dedicated crew who continue to slam doors, issue forth plates of sardines, fall up and down stairs, dress up, whack each other with everything from axes to whisky bottles and telephones while shedding clothes like snakes.

And what a cast – Liza Goddard as housekeeper Dotty Otley, Simon Shepherd as director Lloyd Dallas, Paul Bradley as the unreliable burglar Selsdon Mowbray whose mistimed exits and entrances caused much hilarity, Lucy Robinson as luvvie Belinda Blair, Simon Coates as the feckless Frederick Fellowes whose violent nosebleeds and doggedness got him into endless rib-tickling shenanigans, and the wonderful Dan Fredenburgh whose head-first slithering down the stairs had me in sniggering like a schoolgirl, Lisa Ambalavanar as the young floozey Brooke Ashton whose inability to ad lib left us in stitches.

Noises Off 2024- Pamela Raith Photography

Act One took a while to build up the pace but by the end we were wiping away tears, by Two it was commonplace, by Three the hysteria whipped up a notch as all hell breaks loose as they just about hold it together.

Why does it Noises Off still work? It’s a wonderful mix of Benny Hill style ridicule and slapstick, that innate English urge that the show must go on and because it’s still seriously funny. So go, but hurry because seats are scarce.

Noises Off is at Oxford Playhouse until Saturday February 24.