Noises Off revolves around the play-within-a-play Nothing On, which a hapless collection of actors and technical crew are trying to stage on a tour across the UK. After we follow the eventful rehearsal period in the first act, perspective is turned on its head in Act Two when we see the show from behind the scenes at a future performance, hilariously buckling under the strain of the fraught relationships and misunderstandings of the cast and crew.
The current revival of Michael Frayn's multi-layered comedy at the Old Vic has the critics in raptures. Directed by Lindsay Posner and with a limited season until the 25th February it is fast becoming the must-see show of the current season. Michael Billington of The Guardian bestows the show a five star review and claims "All that one can say is that, with this and One Man, Two Guvnors running simultaneously, London boats two of the funniest plays you could ever hope to see and echoes with the sound of laughter."
The Telegraph's Charles Spencer claims the show is "even funnier" than One Man, Two Guvnors in his five star critique. "In these dark, anxious times, Noises Off offers an infallible escape into happiness" he summarises, stating "There isn’t a single weak performance, but there is particularly delightful work from Celia Imrie as the lovable old soap star Dotty Otley, who is having a fling with Jamie Glover’s much younger, and hilariously dim, leading man. I also loved Amy Nuttall as a bimbo who is repeatedly stripped to her scanties and keeps losing her contact lenses; and Jonathan Coy as an amiable old luvvie wrongly suspected of sexual double dealing." He claims the revival "is a real labour of love [which] brings out the zestful warmth of the piece."
Paul Taylor of The Independent rates the show four out of five stars and describes it as a "deliriously funny and beautifully cast Christmas treat." Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail states his "only quibble" is that "the characters will be more familiar to actors than to civilians", yet concedes "it really is all terribly well done" in his four star review. What's On Stage's Matt Trueman also awards the show four stars saying "As much a masterpiece as the Mona Lisa, Noises Off is one of the very few plays you must see before you die". He praises the stellar performances stating "In a top-notch cast, Celia Imrie disintegrates delightfully as the show grinds on. Spritely and balletic in the dress, she limps on in Stockton like a horse waiting to be put out of its misery. Janie Dee makes a perfect head-girl as Belinda Blair, desperate to keep the show on the road, Paul Ready is hilariously hapless as stage manager Tim and Karl Johnson's Selsdon delivers his opening line ("No bars, no burglar alarms") as if it were "To be or not to be." Most noteworthy, given how difficult the text’s prescriptiveness makes individual interpretation, is Robert Glenister's director Lloyd Dallas.
Usually a sympathetic sane-man drowning in idiots, Glenister makes him a spiteful, snarling failure and adds some rare fight to Frayn’s delirious froth."
The unique structure of the play coupled with Frayn's intricate plotting, snappy dialogue and hilarious slapstick set-pieces mean there is literally no other show quite like it. With only a few months left to catch this superior revival, you'd best get booking!