Despite having been written over three decades ago (and having spawned numerous lesser plays-within-plays in the process) Noises Off retains the same sense of anarchic novelty that made it so successful back in 1982 - mainly because very few modern plays are as wildly dependent on technical and comic timing. I was intrigued therefore to see how the cast and crew of Oxford University students that make up Milk And Two Sugars Productions would deal with the more demanding aspects of Michael Frayn's farce-within-a-farce. I am pleased to report that their collective efforts were praiseworthy.
Although at certain points within the first half the pace lacked the necessary zip to really get the audience rolling in the aisles, the laughs came thick and fast courtesy of some imaginative and lively performances from key cast members.
Tom Dowling conveyed just the right blend of pomposity and exasperation as Lloyd, the director, while Benedict Morrison chewed his way through the increasingly shoddy scenery as the fictional cast's alcoholic luvvie, Selsdon Mowbray. Most impressive, though, was Ellie Wade whose portrayal of the hapless Dotty transcended its farcical roots and in the second half reached to unexpected levels of tragedy and pathos.
The set and props were stylistically perfect, with the early eighties, mock pine décor effectively evoking the period in which the play was first performed. The abundant collection of props were suitably basic, while the costumes trod a perfect line between naff outdated stereotypes and retro chic. The lighting was kept relatively simple, which makes sense with such a chaotic set.
Though by no means perfect, this production of Noises Off was bright, loud, and consistently funny. As previously mentioned, the pace sagged at a couple of points in the first half as the cast found their comedic feet, but director Helena Jackson can be forgiven for one or two missed beats since she has managed to choreograph the events of the second half into a perfect state of simulated chaos.