| Nov 30, 2006

Feature Article - November 30, 2006

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Feature Article - November 30, 2006

Noises Off

by Wilma Kenny

Noises Off is a play about a mediocre British acting troupe staging a farce called ‘Nothing On’. The first act takes us through a final rehearsal, the second has the audience watching a performance from backstage, and the last act is just that: the raucous unravelling of both the play and its actors during the final performance. It’s a tough play to do well; a farce within a farce, dependant on split-second timing and excellent choreography.


The first time I saw Noises Off, I’ve never laughed harder. Then came the movie, and yet another stage production, and by then it had stopped being funny any more. But not long into North Frontenac’s production last week, I realized I was grinning, and soon I was happily laughing out loud along with the rest of the small but appreciative first-night audience. There were the to-be-expected first-night dropped lines, but the pace of the production didn’t falter. In a lovely bit of sleight-of-hand, director Brian Robertson put the prompter, played by Susan Irwin, front and centre, where she disappeared into the play. Her shouted prompts were easy for the actors to follow, and they somehow became a seamless part of the performance. It could never have worked so well, had she been whispering from a prompter’s usual place in the wings.

I enjoyed the lightning-fast choreography of the second act, most of it done in mime, when some of the characters are trying to damage each other with the fire axe while at the same time making their stage entrances and exits on cue. However, in the speed of being passed from one hand to another, that axe looked unconvincingly light.

Robertson Davies once snarkily commented that only in Canada does the audience applaud the sets. This particular set deserved enthusiastic applause. Peter Platenius and his crew built a set that could be reversed neatly and efficiently twice, yet was sturdy enough to have slamming doors on two levels all on the relatively small SLHS stage.

Much had been made in the run-up publicity of Debbie Spaar’s injured ankle: she deserves great credit for going on stage without a wheelchair. To watch a real-life disaster management coordinator having difficulty managing a plate of sardines and a telephone added still another level of humour to her performance as the baffled Dotty.

Peter Platenius as Seldon Mowbray was a loveable puckish drunk. Seldon was deaf and distracted, frequently went missing, yet somehow managed to turn up just in time for (most of) his entrances. His mischievous grin stole the show several times.

Sandra Robertson played the vacuous blonde Brooke to perfection. She didn’t have to say a word when she lost her second contact lens: a sympathetic chuckle ran through the audience as soon as they saw the look on her face.

Doug MacIntyre had the demanding role of the onstage director who is juggling personal affairs with his stage assistant Poppy and the actress Brooke, while trying to get the show on the road. His short-fused sarcasm is convincing and helps maintain the break-neck pace of both plays.

Craig Godfrey does a good job of carrying the debonaire Gary into total meltdown both on and off stage, as his personal and professional lives disintegrate simultaneously.

Kevin Melcher as the nervous, misunderstood Frederick performs some spectacular pratfalls, well-timed and so convincing no one would have been surprised if he had appeared in a wheelchair.

Danielle Quenneville has the closest to a ‘straight’ role as Belinda, who is doing all she can to hold things together. Her mimed sequences in the second act are a treat to watch, and extremely funny.

Arthur Cota has grown up with NFLT: his unflappable but very weary Tim was well done; an excellent and important foil to the frantic behaviour going down all around him.

Likewise, Karen Steele’s character Poppy is a voice of calm throughout most of the play. She suddenly and competently moves out of the shadows to take over the whole stage when she finally snaps.

Congratulations to the hard-working folks in North Frontenac Little Theatre, both onstage and behind the scenes: opening night was great fun, and those who saw later performances report they were even better!

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