bord gais energy theatre
Farce is about unmasking, the shattering of appearances. In Michael Frayn's play about a minor theatre company touring a badly penned farce called Nothing On, the genre's weapons are turned against itself. If there is unmasking, it's of Lloyd (Neil Pearson), the director, who has the pretensions of his role exploded as he's sucked into the chaos generated by the disastrous personal lives of the actors.
Lindsay Posner's Old Vic production is as slick as Nothing On is shambolic, as perfect an execution of Frayn's play-within-a-play shown from three different angles as you could wish for.
In Act One, Lloyd is in the auditorium of the Grand Theatre Weston-Super-Mare, late on the night of the final dress rehearsal of Nothing On, slowly losing patience with his actors who are more preoccupied with their own problems than remembering their lines or even entering the stage through the right doors.
In Act Two, the set has been turned around and we're behind it, backstage at the Theatre Royal Ashton-under-Lyne, a month into the company's provincial tour. The cast's problems have worsened. Garry (David Bark-Jones) is furious at Dotty (Maureen Beattie) for flirting with the clueless Frederick (Chris Larkin), and both are initially refusing to go on. Lloyd, now directing Richard III has dropped in with flowers for his lover Brooke (Thomasin Rand). All hell breaks loose, but non-verbally, as Nothing On is being performed and backstage silence is the rule.
In Act Three, we're back facing the set, this time at Stockton-on-Tees, during the play's final run. It's now mutated out of all recognition, a mismatched collage of the original farce. Freddie gets his feet in a fire-bucket, Dotty, as the housekeeper, has finally been driven mad by the plate of sardines, and the number of burglars has multiplied.
The first two acts are hugely enjoyable, particularly the shambolic rehearsal, with Lloyd's slow burn finally erupting, and the pomposity and sensitivity of the actors sent up gloriously. The third act, with the play so surreally out-of-kilter, is by far the funniest, with the actors, however maniacally nonsensical it gets, valiantly pushing on with Nothing On.
Performances are consistently excellent and bristling with energy. Bark-Jones works up a real sweat, Sasha Waddell's Belinda is the very epitome of the histrionically sentimental theatre dame, and Freshwater her creaky male counterpart. "Sixty years now and the smell of the theatre still calls me" he opines, as his colleagues hold their noses against his body odour.