the perfect, subtly hellish foil for the winter blues

Felicity Kendal, Alexander Hanson and Tracy-Ann Oberman in Noises Off, at the Phoenix Theater – Nobby Clark

Thank goodness for Michael Frayn and his restorative piece Noises Off, which helps combat the winter blues with its warmth of Saharan strength and combats the doom and gloom of our age with a kind of inverted logic: yes, we are in the trouble but at least we lead the world into organized theatrical chaos.

It was 40 years last spring since Frayn’s meta-farce – in which a sex comedy goes wrong, three times: in rehearsal, backstage and during performance – hit the West End. defined the decade, uniting the public in joyous admiration for its construction.

The laugh meter isn’t pushed to breaking point these days – we’re more restrained and making fun of such an old genre matters less. But the longtime author (90 this autumn) must have nonetheless been gratified at the London opening night for Lindsay Posner’s anniversary awakening by the round of giggles, laughs and belly laughs – the indulgent fondness and nostalgia lo they feed only in part.

At the center of the pant-dropping, door-slamming mayhem is national treasure Felicity Kendal, 76 and looking, from Row J, 20 years her junior. She proves adorable in song as the faded and jealous TV actress Dotty, who lives up to her name with every muddled joke and botched action, continually missing the “pillar dish”, the integral plot element of Nothing On , the sexual farce she and her narrow-minded comrades are bringing to the provinces.

Kendal wins particular admiration for the way in which, as Dotty, she seems at once thoughtful, focused and staringly absent – and shivers beautifully, complete with defiant accent, as Mrs. Clackett, housekeeper of the comedy within of comedy. Is this a revival higher than that seen in 2019, with a sense – stimulated by the pandemic? – of high-ranking theater actors who savor the extravagant peculiarity of their profession. Alexander Hanson nails the bouncy director’s warm and coercive friendship, Jonathan Coy is a hoot as the veteran craves character motivations where there are none, and Tracy-Ann Oberman (alas, soon to leave the cast) picks up a lovely — nope luvvyish – air of conspiratorial intrigue with every weary shrug.

The backstage shenanigans of Act II, involving contrived mimes and frantic timing, are very challenging. But it all builds well until a zany climax, in which Joseph Millson’s hilarious lead actor Garry, who steals the show and hits the set, tumbles right down the stairs. He’s in free fall in every way; nothing makes sense, yet he is set to continue as a pro. He has a curiously hellish quality, all in all, like a diabolical episode of Black Mirror. A tonic, to suffocate.

Until March 11;

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