“Noises Off”, presented by The Company Theatre Group, was a well executed farce

What happens offstage is often more exciting than the onstage drama. The performers and directors are full of anxieties, trying to control disturbing situations created backstage by indifferent crew members and mediocre actors, their professional jealousy and romantic inclinations resulting in chaos with disastrous results on the actual performance. The Company Theatre Group from Mumbai gives us the opportunity to see offstage drama full of physical knockabout when it staged “Noises Off”, a popular British farce by Michael Frayan, at Kamani auditorium this past week. Indeed it is a farce par excellence which evoked laughter loud and long.

Structured as a drama-within the drama, it all starts with the dress rehearsal of a sex comedy. The director, who appears nervous and angry, sits on the right side of the front row of the auditorium, giving instructions, , shouting at the actors who tend to be mediocre, constantly missing cues, showing no sense of timing. The way the frustrated director behaves and interacts with the clumsy members of the cast is in itself a potent source of comedy.

In a clever device of reversing the set, the backstage portion is visible to us, while the imaginary comedy play is shown to an invisible audience. We are focused on what happens offstage. The inept performers are confused, since they are paying no attention to their cues, fighting and in the process creating chaos.

One of the hilarious sequences is the one where the frantic director comes backstage with a bottle of wine, trying to assuage the hurt feelings of his actress who is weeping. He asks a stage hand to bring flowers to make her happy. The wine bottle passes from one actor to another, and they end up entering the stage drunk. This is the reason the start of the play is delayed.

To assure the restive audience the organisers keep on announcing that the play is about to start. The announcer’s desperate efforts and the way she fumbles are also a source of fun.

Director Atul Kumar has imaginatively designed his production with two-layer sets. A stair links these two levels. The upper part shows several rooms indicating bedrooms and bathrooms. The lovers rush to these rooms engaging in slapstick and physical confrontations. In the process one character’s nose gets hurt and starts bleeding. One lady gets locked in a room because the door latch breaks. Her male partner displays it to the audience gleefully.

All these scenes are part of the dress rehearsal of the imaginary play which is ingeniously manipulated to create hilarious situations.

The backstage ambience is realistically created with effective lighting. The set to show the dress rehearsal is designed aesthetically and in a realistic manner. All the members of the cast display their craft as performers of farce, using idiosyncratic characteristics of their characters to create humour.