Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Noises Off
Lamb's Players Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of The Wanderers

Brian Mackey and Deborah Gilmour Smyth
Photo by Ken Jacques
Creating deliberate onstage chaos requires a lot of planning. Farces, in particular, need playwrights who know how to create comic situations that keep on building throughout a full-length staging. Originally produced in 1982, Noises Off continues to be a popular farce mainly because of Michael Frayn's hilarious script, a consistently funny blend of backstage humor, slapstick, dysfunctional character relationships, and unplanned mishaps. The Lamb's Players Theatre's production in Coronado, directed by Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth with a dedicated ensemble, shouldn't be missed.

At Weston-super-Mare's Grand Theatre in 1976, a British director, Lloyd Dallas (Francis Gercke), is trying to get his cast prepared for opening night of a generic farce, Nothing On, by Robin Housemonger. Most of them seem unprepared for a variety of reasons. The lead, Dotty Otley (Associate Artistic Director and director of Patron Services, Deborah Gilmour Smyth), isn't completely off script; an inquisitive co-star, Frederick Fellows (Ross Hellwig), doesn't understand his character's motivations; and another performer, Selsdon Mowbray (Jim Chovick), is a full-blown alcoholic. Instead of coming together, the performances become increasingly disorderly when the touring show is performed at Ashton-under-Lyne's Theatre Royal and Stockton-on-Tees' Municipal Theatre. Backstage "drama" among the cast and crewmembers gets out of hand as audiences witness their personal lives spiral out of control.

Scenes from Nothing On are performed once in each of the three acts with different outcomes. The repeated dialogue and scenarios are not boring, as each section is presented very differently. Acts one and three take place on theatre stages, while act two takes place completely behind the set at the Theatre Royal. It's a comically complex act where theatregoers hear the play while the artists silently get involved in a variety of conflicts as the show goes on. Jordan Miller's choreography has the greatest impact here, as a lot of physical comedy happens in this part of Noises Off. Mike Buckley's set complements Housemonger's silly tale, and his contributions fit well with the many absurd scenarios in the play. In addition, Jeanne Reith's costuming, such as Selsdon's burglar clothing and a robe that Frederick wears portraying a Sheikh, are the type of outfits you'd expect from a breezy 20th century theatrical comedy.

All the accomplishments of the crew couldn't succeed in Noises Off without the performances of the actors who work with Smyth. Deborah Gilmour Smyth, Brian Mackey (playing a male lead, Garry Lejeune), Charlene Wilkinson, John, Hellwig, and Jim Chovick go back and forth between cleverly portraying theatre stars and their Nothing On characters, and this adds a great deal of enjoyment. Mackey, taking part in some dangerous-looking pratfalls, provides a few hysterically funny moments that will make the audience laugh out loud and leave them impressed with how he pulls off these risk-taking gags. Gercke, Cynthia Gerber and Omri Schein are well cast as the equally hapless crewmembers who have to deal with issues out of their control.

Frayn's script and Smyth's staging don't attempt to bog down events with unnecessary dramatic moments or filler. It's all about well-executed jokes that contribute to an extremely entertaining and light evening. If there is a moral, it's the famous saying, "The show must go on." No matter what problems occur, everybody associated with Lloyd's presentation of Nothing On try to avoid shirking their responsibilities. Anyone who's been involved with a disastrous night involving theatre should be able to relate to that aspect of the plot.

More than 30 years later, Frayn's narrative continues to be a laugh riot. Kudos to everyone involved for such an irresistible and uproarious evening.

Noises Off, through May 20, 2018, at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $34.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 1-619-437-6000.