Let there be laughter
'Noises Off', the farcical play within a play incorporates lots of physical humour and absurdity - there is little to be criticised and much to be enjoyed.
One of the many parallels to the chaos theory demonstrate how, even when everything goes terribly wrong, the result can be inherently ‘right’…for reasons that defy explanation. Such was the packed audience’s reaction to Production Illusion’s farce titled ‘Noises Off’ that opened at Al-hamra on August 5, 2010.
The play was written by English playwright Michael Frayn in 1982, after he contemplated the nature of ‘backstage’ drama. According to the playwright, "It was funnier from behind than in front and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind."
Noises Off, thereby is a play within a play and being a farce rather than a comedy, it incorporates lots of physical humour and absurdity; add to that the vaudevillesque intermission music on loop and one is almost reminded of a modern day Laurel and Hardy taking the stage amid slightly more chaos.
Veteran thespian Omair Rana, the director of the play (both on, off and backstage) describes it in his forwarding note to be ‘singly the most difficult and hence humbling production he ever experienced.’ One can see why, given the scope of the quite literally ‘three-dimensional’ effort. An amazing rotating set, courtesy the vision of art director Ayesha Shuja and architect Mashhad Abbas almost serves the role of a ninth character in the production.
In the first act of the play the actors carry on with the dress rehearsal a day before ‘Noises On’ opens. There are missed lines, dropped cues, doors that don’t open and other doors that don’t shut! The movements and lines are repetitive enough to be ‘laugh out loud’ funny rather than witty and the audience shares the experience of being ridiculed and scolded with the actors as a pre-opening night manic director Lloyd Dallas (Omair Rana) trumps through the hall shouting cues and making actors drop their props. Needless to say it all goes downhill from that point on.
The plot goes something like this: An estate agent Roger, played by Garry Long in Noises Off (Ian Eldred) brings his mistress Vicky, played by Brooke Ashton (Zainab Ahmed) to woo her without realising that the property is also playing host to an array of ‘guests’ all of whom think they are either alone or ‘not there’.
The housekeeper Mrs Clackett, played by Dotty Otley and Ayesha Alam Khan tries to juggle her visitors and house owners Phillip and Flavia Brent (Freddy Fellows played by Salman Naseer and Belinda Blai played by Mina Malik) returning from their Italian honeymoon to ‘dodge’ the revenue department. Of course no farce could be complete without an aging, oft-inebriated burglar ( Saad Masood). The entire first act is an exercise in comprehension for when the on again, off again ‘actors’ take the ‘backstage’ in the second act.
In the second act we see the actors backstage about to go on for a matinee performance. Each of the actors struts on to the stage (off stage for us, the audience) to spurt their lines as props are misplaced by the assistant director Poppy Norton Taylor (Fazeelat Aslam). Stage cues are repeatedly mis-announced by the other assistant director (Nadir Shami) amid a series of lover’s spats, jealous boyfriends brawling it out, tears and Selsdon trying to get drunk. The play keeps falling apart both on and off stage until it falls to pieces in the final act.
In the final act, the play is near the end of its run and the friction between the actors is fast approaching boiling point. There is much improvising, glorious gaffes, an impromptu wedding and forgotten cues, lines and props.
It has become common practice for plays that take place in Pakistan to receive enormous praise rather than give ‘a critical review’ and this may well be because we, the audience are simply glad to have something to take our mind off everything else. However, in the case of Noises Off, there is little criticism to be had…the play, the farce and the performances all ‘worked’.
Ian Eldred delivered roaring lines and fell on stage so spectacularly the audience often held their breath wondering if he had survived. Mina Malik’s saccharine ‘darlings’ and gossip tidbits were a delight, Ayesha Alam’s Dotty was genuinely dotty enough to be lovable and Salman Naseer’s perennial nosebleeds and procrastinating pauses into the ‘meaning behind his lines’ were endearing.
But as is often the case, the show belonged mostly to Rana, who opened much of his lines with ‘And God said let them remember their lines’; ‘And God said let the popcorn leave the stage and the magazine be on the stage when required’. Rana has said that his greatest hope for this play is that people come to see it and start coming to the theatre again. “That’s all I want. Rehearsals for this play started with the gruesome bombings at Data Dabar and now it is opening with the airplane crash and floods…all we hope is to add some laughter to the gruesome mix that makes up our days.”
'Noises Off' was all about timing and it was timed to perfection, near enough so that when the cast took their final bow and the power went off the audience initially thought it part of the farce.
But that was when God said “let there be laughter.”