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Noises Off/Royal Court

Mike Chapple on a disaster that's such a winner

Written by . Published on September 12th 2014.

Noises Off/Royal Court

A LONG, long, time ago in a Liverpool Royal Court far away - when the musty grand old dame was falling apart and bar stewards sold foul, warm, marked-up  lager cans from discount store boxes - the audience was enjoying a performance of that perennial comedy favourite, Night Collar.

 Among them was a raucous hen party, showing the usual lack of attention span - except when it comes to singling out some poor unfortunate to abuse on stage. 

All of their timing is perfect in yet another Court production that zooms along at a high speed

Here it was a radio DJ of this parish, playing the principal role of a city cabbie on a cold Christmas Eve.

 "Ay, mate!" squawked one of the demure young ladies, froth spewing from the Jeremy Kyle Show  style gaps between her teeth. "You've gorra face made for radio." Cue much cackling.

The object of this address pondered the observation before calmly replying: "Fuck off!" and carrying on with his lines as if nothing had happened. Cue mass applause.

This episode is mentioned for a number of reasons. For one it illustrates how far on the Court as a building itself has come since those days.

The transformation of the shabby stalls  into a downstairs supper bar especially, has made it prime night - and matinee afternoon - spot for many.

And for two, it demonstrates the unseen pitfalls that can occur during a theatrical production. Which is what Noises Off  (as in "noises off stage") is all about.

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Its creator, Michael Frayne, got the idea after watching a farce backstage in London as long ago as 1970.

 He thought what he saw behind was far funnier than what he  saw up front.

And so it has proved as since 1982 when it made its debut at the Lyric Theatre, this ingenious comedy 'play within a play' has, helped by a number of updates, continued to keep its contemporary feel while earning rave reviews. This one will be no exception.

The action revolves around the provincial cast and company of  the British farce, with an appropriate oo-er missus  title of “Nothing On”. Act One revolves around the chaotic rehearsal with director Lloyd Dallas (played by former Mabel Fletcher Tech student Jonathan Markwood) periodically marching up and down the Royal Court's aisles to address his clueless charges up onstage. He must have had a hunch it's all going to go horribly wrong. And it does.

Act Two shows the scene back stage two weeks later when we get to see the carnage in the wings as well as peeking at the nightmare unfolding up front.

If this description may seem a little baffling then Richard Foxton's brilliant stage design literally has to be seen to be believed. The mayhem that unfolds, with various characters tumbling through doors and in and out of the action, resembles a multi-faceted cuckoo clock gone bananas.

Such was its ingenuity, when the set was literally turned round in a flash for the last act it actually won a spontaneous burst of applause, which must have the real director, Court directorial favourite Bob Eaton and his backroom boys and girls, bursting with pride.

Act Three, is in real time, with us seeing the cast performing a shambles of a final night when everything is thrown to the winds - script, underwear and sardines (er, that's another story).

Although this may seem a contradiction, the entire set of players are superb in their nincompoopery.  

Old Liverpool hands such as Markwood, Danny O'Brien, Phil Hearne and Stephen Fletcher have been augmented by Chris Jordan, Jessica Dyas, Jennifer Bea and, lest we forget, TV favourites, Tupele Dorgu and Kim Hartman. Corrie fans will remember the former as the gobby Kelly 'Legs' Crabtree and the latter as Helga, Herr Flick's bit of leg over in 'Allo 'Allo.

All of their timing is perfect in yet another Court production that zooms along at a high speed that sometimes leaves you scurrying to keep up with the action.

So maybe not one for the hen parties, then. But for everyone else -  how could  such a disaster be  such a winner.

Who'd have thunk it? (copyright Bill Hicks)

9/10 House of Fun

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