On Saturday, December 1, I got to watch Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” at Ajijic’s Lakeside Little Theatre, directed by Dave McIntosh and assisted by Ann Swinston.
Feeling somewhat under the weather, initially I wasn’t over-excited about sitting through a two-hour show. By the end, however, I felt rejuvenated as I couldn’t stop chuckling at the sharp, off-color humor. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say.
When the curtain first opened, I was flabbergasted to see a ladder left on stage. I sighed and prepared myself for a bumpy ride. I soon realized that this was intentional, since “Noises Off” is literally a play-within-a-play, and a satirical one at that. In my opinion, it falls under the comedic genre of “theatrical incompetence.” That’s to say, the show is plagued by Murphy’s Law; everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
The fictional piece takes place at an English home belonging to a wealthy tax evading couple (Philip and Flavia, played by Keith Donner and Linda Freeman) who fled to Spain. Unexpectedly, they return to their posh abode only to discover an aloof housekeeper named Mrs. Clackett (played by Suki O’Brien), not to mention a few lackadaisical home intruders.
These trespassers include a real estate agent named Roger (played by Mark Donaldson), who is not only searching for the fraudsters, but also trying to seduce a tax auditor named Vicki (Pamela Johnson) who gallivants around in lingerie most of the time. To complicate matters even further, there’s a drunken burglar (Fred Koesling) and sardines falling all over the place. What ensues is a series of awkward confrontations, sexual frustrations and overall mayhem.
In reality, this is a struggling theater production where the actors can’t distinguish left from right. In the first act, the audience witnesses a tragic dress rehearsal where everyone is blatantly unprepared. All the characters are bewildered by the excessive amount of entrances and exits, not to mention missing their cues or forgetting props. Onlookers behold the wrath of Lloyd the director (Wayne Willis Waterman), who screams and insults his colleagues from the auditorium, especially stage managers Poppy (Taylor Shouldice) and Sam (Donna Burroughs).
Geriatric Dotty (who plays Mrs. Clackett) can’t remember anything to save her life, Frederick (Philip) won’t stop doubting himself, Brooke (tax seductress Vicki) grapples to form a full sentence, and Selsdon (the burglar) is practically blackout drunk, incapable of breaking through the window at the appropriate time.
Following a half-hour intermission, the second act depicts the set physically turned inside out. This time viewers observe what unfolds backstage as the ensemble performs a matinee performance one month later. Emotions run haywire as it becomes apparent that relationships among cast members have steadily crumbled due to romantic spats, jealousy and general pent-up aggression. It pretty much turns into the actors sabotaging one another, which certainly makes for a good laugh.
Highlights include Dotty spanking Lloyd with a cacti, everyone hiding booze from Selsdon, Garry (Roger) chasing Frederick around with an axe, and Poppy confessing to Lloyd that she is pregnant with his baby, which got sticky considering that he was also courting Brooke. By the third act, the fictional production has passed its ten-week run and all the actors have literally stopped caring. Ad-libbing becomes the name of the game.
Each performer offered something special, but my personal favorite was Wayne Willis Waterman. I appreciated his performance in the same vein as Lena Headey who plays Cersei in “Game of Thrones” – they’re fun to loathe. He was a tyrant I detested for his misogynistic behavior, yet his acting skills were impressive. And the American can pull off one heck of an English accent.
Another standout performer was Pamela Johnson, who hilariously embraced the ditziness of Vicki, one of the funniest characters in my opinion. The moment she discovered that the burglar was her biological father felt like a scene out of a daytime talk show devoted to dysfunctional families.
Keith Donner was also entertaining, mostly in his ability to depict Philip as a fragile soul. He was a natural in terms of “physical” comedic routines, especially since his character had a propensity for nose bleeds, falling or fainting at the sight of blood. All in all, he was the squirmiest fellow.
Furthermore, Taylor Shouldice blew the audience away with her poignant acting skills, particularly in her confessions to Lloyd about her pregnancy. While all of the performers delighted us with their slapstick comedy, she provided some much appreciated human emotion.
Also worthy of recognition is director McIntosh, who managed to perfectly set the pace of the production. Without his attention to detail and careful guidance, such a complex play might easily have fallen flat.
Overall, the troupe succeeded in juggling two simultaneous stories. At times it seemed a little overwhelming, but that’s the nature of the production. Aesthetically, the set (designed by Ruth Kear) was top-notch. Masterful carpenters (including Earl Schenck, Richards Bansbach, Bryan Selesky, Terry Soden, Kim Burris, Val Burris, Lorne Ehrlich, Guy Fontaine, Jeff Kingsbury, Ian White, Scott Monteith, Rob Rederburg and Sharlene Rederburg) assembled what appeared to be a 16th-century British manor on wheels. Renaissance paintings, medieval emblems, ornamental rugs and a fireplace adorned the swanky home. At the epicenter was a faux mahogany staircase leading upstairs where actors popped in and out of doors like a twisted game of musical chairs.
Crew members also played a pivotal role behind the scenes. They include stage manager Win McIntosh; assistant stage managers Jeff Kingsbury and Christine Bott; set painters Ruth Kear, Roberta Hilleman and Corrine Kelly; stage screw David Hutchinson, Russell Mack, Garry Peerless, Rob Rederburg, Sharlene Rederburg, Rob Stupple and Patteye Simpson; props by Sandra Murr and Al Kirkland; lighting by Ricardo Perez, Garry Peerless and Bruce Stanley; sound by J.E. Jack; wardrobe by Johanna Clark; and makeup by Donald Stordahl and his team.