Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off” review: This one is chock-full of laughs

By Mark Collins Camera Theater Critic

It may seem odd, but an aspect of reviewing theater I am reticent about is actually recommending a particular production. I enjoy opining about what works, what doesn’t and maybe why this play is insightful into the human condition or funny, and why that other play is less so.

But I’m always uncomfortable when someone asks me, “Should I see that play? What do you think?”

I write about what I think and feel about a show; you may think or feel differently. I usually don’t know what to say beyond that.

But let me, without reservation, urge this: Unless you’re recovering from an appendectomy and gut-clenching, diaphragm spasms of laughter could cause your stitches to burst, you should go see this the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off.”

Why? Oh, because of Ian Anderson’s wonderful celebration of dumb (as Frederick Fellowes) and Jamie Ann Romero’s glorious homage to dumber (as Brooke Ashton).

Or Tim McCracken’s explosive meltdowns as Lloyd Dallas, and Leslie O’Carroll’s fantastic flubs as Dotty Otley, and Jim Hunt’s happy-go-bumbling turn as Selsdon Mowbray.

And certainly because of Geoffrey Kent’s hysterical — and by that I mean I stopped being able to breathe because I was laughing so hard at some of his bits — Garry Lejeune. 

This is a superbly crafted farce by Michael Frayn, and the CSF cast is delicious.

For the uninitiated, Frayn got the notion to write “Noises Off” (first produced in 1982) after watching the behind-the-scenes mayhem in a play he was in.

“Noises Off” is about a second-rate professional theater troupe putting on one of those idiotic British sex comedies. The fictional play is called “Nothing On.”

“Noises Off” is written in three distinct acts. The first is during a final, late-night rehearsal of “Nothing On,” which is supposed to open the following evening. Things are not going well.

The second act takes place a month into the play’s tour, but what we see is the comic drama that’s going on backstage. The third is during the beleaguered troupes closing-night performance.

One well-known marvel of “Noises Off” is how the set — a two-story interior with seven doors, a window and another curtained pathway — must revolve completely around to reveal the backstage for the second act. Basically, it’s pretty cool to see.

While the play is often performed with two intermissions, CSF director Lynne Collins opts to give the farce to us with just one, between the first and second act, and the decision pays off.

But what’s so great about “Noises Off” is that it’s a farce built around a very human phenomenon — the aching desire not to screw up in public. The play’s first act sets up what completely falls apart — in a very public way — in the third act.

Meanwhile, the second act is sheer slapstick madness, and the CSF show delivers that in wildly impressive fashion. One sequence finds nearly everyone on stage wielding the same axe, with mostly malicious intent, within about a 20 second span. It’s all a marvel, and it earned spontaneous applause from the opening-night audience.

Costume designer Clare Henkel’s eye for mid-to-late 1970s fashion is terrific, and that means we’re treated to lots of plaid, polyester, big print and polka dots.

(By the way, there’s no comparison between this and other live versions of “Noises Off” and the dreadful 1992 film version. Just in case you’ve seen the movie and are using that to judge whether or not you want to see the play.)

For those who look for some deep meaning from the farce, I suppose some doctoral student somewhere has built a thesis from the lines “Nothing On” director Lloyd Dallas utters: “That’s what it’s all about, doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s the theatre. That’s life.”

It’s an unintended existentialist’s cry, for sure.

But this show isn’t for reflection. It’s for something much more fun. This “Noises Off” is for laughing so hard you lose yourself.

You should go and see it.