Noises Off or Nothing On? One play's quite awful, the other riotously funny

A disastrously poor show is in the works down at Pavilion Theatre, a ghastly little production, a virtual train wreck of a sex comedy called Nothing On.

Nothing On is the play within the play that is Michael Frayn's backstage comedy Noises Off! Opening Feb. 23 at Sagebrush Theatre, the production marks Western Canada Theatre's return to farcical theatre for the first time since 2008's premiere of Ian Weir's The Island of Bliss.

Yes, get set for slapstick and high jinks, and - if director Daryl Cloran and cast can pull it off - riotous laughter.

"It's about the complete disintegration of a theatre troupe," said Janet Michael, who plays Dotty Otley, part of the amateur troupe.

"It's a farce about a farce," explained Anita Wittenberg, who plays Belinda Blair. "Farce is usually fast and funny with lots of doors slamming, lots of props flying and people falling downstairs.

"But it is an exacting form of theatre," Michael continued. "It has to look like chaos but we have to be in complete control."

"It's almost like choreography because one thing follows another," Wittenberg added.

Chaos erupts from curtain call when, in the first act, the dress rehearsal set up an assortment of theatrical stumbling blocks - forgotten lines, misplaced props, missed entrances and cast romances.

Act 2 moves backstage, taking the audience with it to view Nothing On from behind as Noises Off unfolds as well. Pandemonium, however, is reserved for Act 3.

Unlike The Island of Bliss, Noises Off is something of a modern classic, having premiered at London's Old Vic 30 years ago.

Frayn, a well-known British playwright, got the idea for Noises Off in 1970, while standing backstage watching Chinamen, a farce he'd written for actor Lynn Redgrave.

"It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind," he told one critic after the play's 1983 premiere.

The play has been variously described as one of the most hilarious farces ever written and as an inside joke to thespians about what goes on behind the scenes. Considering its popularity over the years, general audiences must be in on the joke as well: "I don't think people need to have experience in theatre to make it funny.

"It's certainly considered the most successful contemporary (farce) in English theatre," Michael said.

"I think this one's so funny because, like any farce, the audience gets to see the struggles to make something work," Wittenberg said. "There are so many physical things to overcome."

Noises Off is a co-production with Chemainus Theatre Festival, where this production moves for a six-week run. The cast includes Kirk Smith and Christopher Weddell of Kamloops as well as Thom Marriott, Linsey Angell, Leon Willey and Andrew Cownden.

ON STAGE

WHAT:Noises Off

WHEN:Thursday, Feb. 23, to Saturday, March 3, 8 p.m.

WHERE:Sagebrush Theatre

TICKETS:Kamloops Live! Box Office, www.kamloopslive.com

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