Noises Off is a 1982 play by the English playwright Michael Frayn. The idea for it came in 1970, when Frayn was watching from the wings a performance of The Two of Us, a farce that he had written for Lynn Redgrave. He said, "It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind." The prototype, a short-lived one-act play called Exits, was written and performed in 1977. At the request of his associate, Michael Codron, Frayn expanded this into what would become Noises Off. It takes its title from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage.
Each of the three acts of Noises Off contains a performance of the first act of a play within a play, a sex farce called Nothing On. The three acts of Noises Off are each named "Act One" on the contents page of the script, though they are labelled normally in the body of the script; and the programme for Noises Off will include, provided by the author, a comprehensive programme for the Weston-super-Mare run of Nothing On, including spoof advertisements (for sardines) and acknowledgements to the providers of mysterious props that do not actually appear (e.g. stethoscope, hospital trolley, and straitjacket). Nothing is seen of the rest of Nothing On.
Nothing On is the type of play in which young girls run about in their underwear, old men drop their trousers, and many doors continually bang open and shut. It is set in "a delightful 16th-century posset mill", modernised by the current owners and available to let while they are abroad; the fictional playwright is appropriately named Robin Housemonger.
Act One is set at the technical rehearsal at the (fictional) Grand Theatre in Weston-super-Mare; It is midnight, the night before the first performance and the cast are hopelessly unready. Baffled by entrances and exits, missed cues, missed lines, and bothersome props, including several plates of sardines, they drive Lloyd, their director, into a seething rage and back several times during the run.
Act Two shows a Wednesday matinée performance one month later, at the (fictional) Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. In this act, the play is seen from backstage, providing a view that emphasises the deteriorating relationships between the cast. Romantic rivalries, lovers' tiffs and personal quarrels lead to offstage shenanigans, onstage bedlam and the occasional attack with a fire axe.
In Act Three, we see a performance near the end of the ten-week run, at the (fictional) Municipal Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees. Relationships between the cast have soured considerably, the set is breaking down and props are winding up in the wrong hands, on the floor, and in the way. The actors remain determined at all costs to cover up the mounting chaos, but it is not long before the plot has to be abandoned entirely and the more coherent characters are obliged to take a lead in ad-libbing somehow towards some sort of end.
Much of the comedy emerges from the subtle variations in each version as character flaws play off each other off-stage to undermine on-stage performance, with a great deal of slapstick. The contrast between players' on-stage and off-stage personalities is also a source of comic dissonance.
The play premièred at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London in 1982, directed by Michael Blakemore and starring Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington, and Nicky Henson. It opened to universally ecstatic reviews and shortly after transferred to the Savoy Theatre in the West End, where it ran until 1987 with five successive casts. It won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy.
On 11 December 1983, a production directed again by Blakemore and starring Dorothy Loudon, Victor Garber, Brian Murray, Deborah Rush, Douglas Seale, and Amy Wright opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where it ran for 553 performances. It earned Tony Award nominations for Best Play and for Blakemore, Rush, and Seale, and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble.
Noises Off has become a staple of both professional theatre companies and community theatres on both sides of the Atlantic. On 5 October 2000, the National Theatre in London mounted a revival, directed by Jeremy Sams and starring Patricia Hodge, Peter Egan and Aden Gillett, that ran for two years, transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End on 14 May 2001 with Lynn Redgrave and Stephen Mangan replacing Hodge and Egan, respectively. Sams' production transferred to Broadway, again at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, on 1 November 2001, with Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, Faith Prince, T. R. Knight, and Katie Finneran. The production was nominated for a Tony and Drama Desk Award as Best Revival of a Play, and Finneran was named Best Featured Actress by both groups.
Frayn has repeatedly rewritten the play over the years. The last revision was in 2000 at the request of Jeremy Sams. There are numerous differences between the 1982 and 2000 scripts. Some new sequences have been added (e.g., an introduction to Act Three, in which Tim, the Company Stage Manager, and Poppy, the Assistant Stage Manager, make simultaneous apologies – the former in front of the curtain, the latter over the PA – for the delay in the performance). Other sequences have been altered or cut entirely. References that tend to date the play (such as Mrs. Clackett's to the Brents having colour television) have been eliminated or rewritten.
A London production ran from 3 December 2011 to 10 March 2012 at the Old Vic Theatre, directed by Lindsay Posner and starring Jonathan Coy, Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson, Aisling Loftus, Amy Nuttall and Paul Ready. This production transferred to the Novello Theatre in the West End from 24 March to 30 June 2012, and then toured Britain and Ireland with a different cast.
A Broadway revival, produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, started in previews at the American Airlines Theatre on December 17, 2015, and opened on January 14, 2016. The cast featured Andrea Martin (Dotty Otley), Megan Hilty (Brooke Ashton), Campbell Scott (Lloyd Dallas), Jeremy Shamos (Frederick Fellowes), David Furr (Gary Lejeune), Rob McClure (Tim Allgood), Daniel Davis (Selsdon Mowbray), Kate Jennings Grant (Belinda Blair), and Tracee Chimo (Poppy Norton-Taylor). The revival ran its limited run through March 13, 2016, extending by one week due to popular demand.. The production was nominated for 2016 Tony Awards for Best Revival of Play, Best Featured Actress for Martin and Hilty, Best Featured Actor for Furr, and Best Costume Design.
An Australian production was mounted at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, where it ran for three weeks as part of Queensland Theatre Company's 2017 season. After the season with QTC, the show then transferred to the Playhouse Theatre, where it ran from the 8th of July to the 12th of August with Melbourne Theatre Company. The cast featured Simon Burke as Lloyd Dallas, Emily Goddard as Poppy Norton-Taylor, Libby Munro as Brooke Ashton, Ray Chong Nee as Garry Lejeune, Hugh Parker as Frederick Fellowes, James Saunders as Timothy Allgood, Louise Siversen as Dotty Otley, Steven Tandy as Selsdon Mowbray and Nicki Wendt as Belinda Blair.
In 1992, the play was adapted for the screen by Marty Kaplan. The film, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Nicollette Sheridan, Denholm Elliott, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker and Marilu Henner, received mixed reviews, with many critics noting it was too much of a theatrical piece to translate well to the screen. Frank Rich, who had called it "the funniest play written in my lifetime", wrote that the film is "one of the worst ever made".
|1984||Tony Award||Tony Award for Best Play">Best Play||Nominated|
|Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play">Best Featured Actor in a Play||Douglas Seale||Nominated|
|Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play">Best Featured Actress in a Play||Deborah Rush||Nominated|
|Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play">Best Direction of a Play||Michael Blakemore||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play">Outstanding New Play||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play">Outstanding Director of a Play||Michael Blakemore||Won|
|Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design">Outstanding Set Design||Michael Annals||Nominated|
|Outstanding Ensemble Performance||Won|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Director||Michael Blakemore||Won|
|2002||Tony Award||Tony Award for Best Play">Best Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play">Best Featured Actress in a Play||Katie Finneran||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play">Outstanding Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play">Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play||Katie Finneran||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play||Katie Finneran||Won|
|Outstanding Director of a Play||Jeremy Sams||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Distinguished Performance of a Revival||Nominated|
|2016||Tony Award||Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play">Best Revival of a Play||Nominated|
|Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play">Best Featured Actor in a Play||David Furr||Nominated|
|Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play">Best Featured Actress in a Play||Andrea Martin||Nominated|
|Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play">Best Costume Design of a Play||Michael Krass||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play">Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play||David Furr||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play">Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play||Megan Hilty||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Distinguished Revival of a Play||Nominated|
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