Arts Club’s Noises Off

Ah, to be a fly on the wall in the theatre! That’s what playwright Michael Frayn gives audiences in his 1982 play, Noises Off. Under the calculated and rigorous direction of Scott Bellis, the current Arts Club Theatre production seethes with feverish energy.

Noises Off is a three-for-one buffet, presented in three acts. Just try to keep up with this play about a play being staged in addition to the dual persona of all its players.

Act I follows a second-rate cast during the final night of rehearsals for a naughty bedroom farce called Nothing On.

Arts Club’s Noises Off

Under the direction of the pompous Lloyd Dallas, the train-wreck-in-the-making has hapless players tripping up lines, cues, excessive plates of sardines and the occasional nosebleed. Personal idiosyncrasies, character feuds and pure exhaustion create more drama than the drama itself!

On opening night, Act II takes place behind the scenes and is a definite side-splitter. While the hopeless cast tries to maintain professionalism onstage, their backstage antics unravel into calamity and chaos.

Act III unfolds during the final night of the unfortunate, wretched tour. By now it is clear that both the set and the players have been abused beyond any salvation. The desperate actors resort to ad-libbing within the crumbling fiasco, as Lloyd deteriorates into a meltdown.

Arts Club’s Noises Off

Precision timing is the key to success for this production. Lighting (Alan Brodie), sound (Anton Lipovetsky), stage management (Angela Beaulieu, Ronaye Haynes) and action (Mike Kovac, Ryan McNeill Bolton) all tip-toe in a tight-wire tango of synchronization amidst Ted Roberts’ Tudor-inspired revolving stage.

There is a non-stop, sensory overload of slamming doors, swinging axes, slippery sardines and a spectacular uproarious tumble! Christine Reimer’s colourful, nostalgic costumes capture the essential 80’s vibe. Belinda’s teal jumpsuit is a delightful throwback while Brooke’s satiny lingerie is tastefully titillating.

Arts Club’s Noises Off
[L to R: Andrew McNee, Tess Degenstein, Coleen Winton, Emma Slip, Ming Hudson]

As the dewy-eyed Brooke, Tess Degenstein is outstanding as she expertly negotiates the razor thin line between slapstick bimbo and annoying airhead. Charlie Gallant nails the art of physical comedy and a tongue-twisting British brogue as an unstable Garry Lejeune.

Andrew McNee strikes a masterful performance as the entitled womanizer Lloyd. His bursts of red-faced outrage are outrageous, childish and pure, distilled LOL. He immerses the audience by deliberately wandering among the aisles, although balcony viewers may not have the best vantage point. Emma Slipp (flawless as the sensible yet protective Belinda) and Colleen Winton (sparkling as an unhinged, scatterbrained Dotty) add to the absurd array of characters.

Coleen Winton Jovanni Sy and Emma Slipp
[L to R: Colleen Winton, Jovanni Sy, Emma Slipp]

Given the overabundance of contrived mayhem, this Britcom would have been less confusing without the contrived British accents. Some were good, some were bad but some were utterly mangled. A better choice may have been to let the actors maintain Canadian English backstage while using the accents as an additional gimmick in Nothing On.

The bumbling cast can be excused for bumbling accents too! Since much of the backstage bustle in Act II is done without speech, the lofty Brit-speak is clearly not missed. The hijinks hurtle along like a cartoon mashup of Roadrunner meets Tom & Jerry, in a frenetic live-action game of charades.

Arts Club’s production of Noises Off is bursting with manic-paced speeches and action galore. Make sure you are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for this one or the marathon will whisk by before you can blink. Perhaps that’s a reason to see it more than once. Noises Off continues at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through February 23.  

Photos by David Cooper.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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