BareStage's Noises Off: An Intimate Spectacle

Photo: Raghav Mathur

Photo: Raghav Mathur

It is a Wednesday matinee at the Theater Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. The sex farce Nothing On is currently being performed. However, the performance cannot be seen by the audience. Instead, onlookers are exposed to the turmoil occurring backstage. The set is reversed: the tumultuous relationships between cast members (and with a bottle of Jack Daniels) stir comical conflict among the players. On-stage disarray is audibly present at the fictional Theater Royal but more importantly, successfully executed at the Choral Rehearsal Hall in the basement of Cesar Chavez within the play Noises Off. The Tony-award winning play-within-a-play, Noises Off is a beloved comedy that has been a staple for professional and community theaters throughout the years. In its production, BareStage does nothing but enhance its esteemed reputation.

Noises Off begins with Mrs. Clackett (Charlotte Evans-Young), a character in Nothing On, rushing through the stage door to answer the ringing telephone with an exaggerated cockney accent. Evans-Young’s utter dedication to characterizing the ridiculous housekeeper coaxes the audience to anticipate the entrances of the rest of the outlandish characters. Then Evans-Young reverts back to her normal (but still British) self to respond to directorial disapproval. Her immediate response to the director’s critical remarks establishes a juxtaposition between the offstage and onstage personas of the play—and this distinction between the characters and the cast members is continued throughout the run by the rest of the players.

Noises Off Act One-5804.jpg

The performances of Garry/Roger (Theo Rosenfeld) and Brooke/Vicki (Julia Reilly) were exceptional. The leading man of Nothing On, Roger is a seemingly confident and sophisticated estate agent trying to find time alone with Vicki, an alluring girl that works for the fictional tax authorities. Seeing Rosenfeld easily transition from Roger, a poised gentleman, to Garry, the boyish, charmingly awkward American actor enhances the theatrical microcosm tenfold. Reilly also does a phenomenal job at this craft—who knew one could be so good at being bad? The soft-spoken, ditzy Brooke is a thespian nightmare. As her on-stage character Vicki, Reilly successfully shows us through direct physicality and a monotonous drawl that Brooke has no perception of the given circumstances that surround her character. It is the small, authentic moments that give Noises Off a genuine and comedic tone. Whether it be the candid nature of the friendship between Frederick (Noah Weinstein) and Belinda (Julia Lotvin) or Ryan Advincula’s commitment to vocal strain and faltered walking as the elderly Selsdon, the subtlety of certain sequences is what truly made the performance amusing.

Regarding technicalities, the costumes were simplistic yet eye-catching. Looking at Julia Reilly’s fully functioning corset alone can prompt shortness of breath. The various vintage styles added quite nicely to the picturesque background. However, the set is its own entity. For the transitions to be executed correctly, the set is reversed to reveal its backstage counterpart; then the audience is able to see the “concealed” affairs happening behind the performance of Nothing On. A student-built contraption, the façade on wheels requires intense concentration in order to be placed. The transitions are truly an impressive feat. Seeing cast members stay in character while assisting the diligent running crew in transitioning the set is also quite meta, embellishing the play-within-a-play narrative. Prop use became a tad careless in the second act, but if anything, it integrated into the situational mayhem. The additional onslaught of mishaps, antics, and quarrels also helped fabricate the frantic nature often found in the backstage world.

Photo: Raghav Mathur

Photo: Raghav Mathur

        Performing for two audiences, fictional and factual, shines light onto the concept of spectatorship. It gives the real audience insight into the performing arts, a notion that most of the Berkeley populace isn’t too familiar with. It transforms the backstage process into a spectacle. A private, unseen commonplace becomes entertainment. The cast of Noises Off creates a profound intimacy—this is what makes the comedic piece so engaging. Natasha Munasinghe’s interpretation does Michael Frayn justice. Her direction creates a fresh and compelling rendition, calling well-deserved attention to this student-run production.

Noises Off runs again this weekend, October 20th-22nd in the Choral Rehearsal Hall. Tickets are $8 to $12 and can be purchased online or at the door.