Michael Frayn’s hilarious comedy comes to Yorkshire

Noises Off.  Photo: Johan Persson
Noises Off. Photo: Johan Persson
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IT has been described as one of the greatest British comedies ever written and now Noises Off, Michael Frayn’s meticulously written farce, is coming to Yorkshire.

The multi-award-winning play heads to Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre next week before moving on to Leeds Grand Theatre in July, following its triumphant and critically acclaimed sell-out run in London.

Noises Off earned rave reviews following extended runs at The Old Vic and then at the Novello Theatre in the West End – it is the highest grossing show in the history of The Old Vic Theatre Company, breaking weekly box office records during its run there – and is already proving a big hit with audiences as it tours the UK.

For the uninitiated, Noises Off, winner of both Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Comedy, serves up a riotous double bill – a play within a play.

Moving along at a sprightly pace, it follows the backstage antics of a touring theatre company as they stumble their way through rehearsals in Weston-super-Mare, to a shambolic Wednesday matinee in Ashton under-Lyne, and a final disastrous performance in Stockton-on-Tees.

Olivier award-winning director Lindsay Posner (Abigail’s Party, A View from the Bridge, Butley and Carousel) leads an impressive cast starring Neil Pearson, of Drop the Dead Donkey and Bridget Jones’ Diary fame, Maureen Beattie (Lewis and Taggart), Thomasin Rand (Call the Midwife and Sherlock) and Geoffrey Freshwater (Foyle’s War).

Playwright Frayn, whose work includes, Copenhagen and Benefactors, says Noises Off was inspired by a visit backstage during a performance of his play The Two Of Us, his debut in London’s West End.

“The show, a series of two-handers, starred Richard Briers and Lynn Redgrave and in the closing piece, a farce, they played five characters between them,” he says.

“Therefore there had to be a series of quick changes. When I saw what that entailed, I thought that it was funnier than anything that was happening on stage and I decided that I’d like to write a farce, viewed from behind-the-scenes.”

But having started he found it hard to piece together. “Writing Noises Off was difficult,” he says. “It was like trying to make a sculpture out of jelly. Every time you change something in one of the acts it bulges out in the other two.”

However, the play has clearly struck a chord with audiences. “I think that it’s connected to the fear which we all have inside ourselves that we might be unable to go on with the performance. It’s amazing how many people find public speaking terrifying, even if it’s just in front of family and friends at a wedding,” he says.

“And an audience is an intense version of the world around us in general. We all feel that we might break down – and we sometimes do. So when we see it happening to those idiots up there on the stage in a farce it’s a release of the tension.”

More than 30 years after it first hit the stage, Noises Off remains one of the funniest plays you are ever likely to see.

Noises Off, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, May 13-18. For tickets call 0114 249 6000 or visit sheffieldtheatres.co.uk. It also plays at Leeds Grand Theatre, July 23-27. For tickets call the box office on 0844 848 2700 or go online at leedsgrandtheatre.com