By Jim Rutter
For THE INQUIRER
I wish I had never seen Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. Correction: I wish I had never seen any other company’s production of his comedy, now receiving a sensationally funny staging at People’s Light and Theatre Company.
Frayn’s farce focuses on a British theatre troupe embarking on a tour of the fictional “Nothing On.” Act One shows them fumbling through the last rehearsal before their first opening night; Act Three catches up with them toward the end of the run, where the intra-cast hostilities and failed romances have all but consumed the production with mayhem and malice.
In a delightful device, Act Two turns Tony Straiges magnificent 10-door set around to reveal the back stage antics and machinations that take place during a performance. Here, Samantha Bellomo’s blisteringly funny and inventive fight choreography (actors head-butting the set!) combines with director Pete Pryor’s sharp timing to transform this farce into a paragon of physical comedy.
Much of the script’s hilarity depends on surprise, both at revelations in the plot of “Nothing On,” and in how badly the quickly irritated cast members screw up their parts and then manage to soldier on in improvisation. The talented cast, led by standout performances from Marcia Saunders and her ever-deteriorating rendering of lines and Christopher Kelly’s blend of nonsensical stammering and raucous physicality, mines their caricatured parts to find gems of humor at every opportunity.
Under Pryor’s direction, the comedy fires on all cylinders: innuendo, slapstick, insider jokes about theatre and acting (missed cues, faulty props), and the human follies of drinking, womanizing and mistaken intention.
The audience didn’t so much thunder in their laughter as treat each new revelation with a mixture of both pleasant surprise and umbrage, a kind of “I can’t believe they just did that.”
And while I rarely stopped laughing at People’s Light’s superb staging, that sense of delighted surprise was the only thing I missed from having seen other productions elsewhere.
Noises Off. Presented through August 4 at People’s Light and Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. Tickets: $25 to $45. Information: 610-344-3500 or peopleslight.org