Theatre Northwest’s Nov. 14-17 show, “Noises Off,” began with a brightly-haired housekeeper talking in what the program called a “British...-ish” accent. Only after she was interrupted by the in-play director did it reveal she was an actress rehearsing for a play.
Confused? Not the only one. Audience member, senior Lance Parker Moore, bewildered for much of the first act, couldn’t stop laughing as he admitted it “took me time to process what was going on.” The surprise from the audience each time an actor addressed the crowd or the faux director appeared out of nowhere made it clear he wasn’t alone.
What was going on was a play within the play. The actors in “Noises Off,” well-prepared and completely American, were actors in “Nothing On,” a play featuring their dysfunctional British-ish counterparts.
“Noises Off” revolved around the ridiculousness that ensued as drama, drunkenness, mishaps and secret relationships plagued the actors preparing for the show. “Nothing off,” as simply explained by in-play director Lloyd Dallas, played by junior Remy Lupo, revolved around “doors and sardines.”
In the first act, the actors were rehearsing for their first performance of the show. They were a little stressed, certain secrets were slowly being revealed, but for the most part, they were enthusiastic and oblivious to what the show would become.
This is uncannily similar to the “Noises Off” actors’ mentality when they first began rehearsing – excited and unaware of how the show would progress.
Senior Kaleb Cowling, who played actor Garry Lelejuane, said that was his favorite part – the progression, seeing how everyone said their lines at the first read-though compared to what it turned into.
Rehearsals began exactly one month before the first show, so it was down to the wire, just like when the characters in the play were up all night perfecting everything before their first performance.
“Doing a show like this in a month is insane, and no one should do it – I highly don’t recommend it – but it’s a lot of fun,” Cowling said. “Hearing the people laugh makes it worth it. They were into it.”
Hopefully, the characters in “Nothing On” appreciated the laughter as well, because as the play progressed, their circumstances got increasingly worse, and the crowd’s laughter got increasingly louder.
Between the first and second act, the entire set, consisting of two, two-story pieces, was rotating 180 degrees before the audience’s eyes. All the while, themed music played for the crowd, with Flo Rida’s “Right Round” and lyrics like “turn around” from Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Director Wendy King said in the program, “Since we are performing this without a curtain, you’ll get a sneak peek of the magic between the acts.”
The twirling rearrangement and authentic moments like a crew member pulling out a drill to fix a door frame between acts were glimpses at that behind-the-scenes magic she alluded to.
Throughout the second act, characters scurried in and out of the set’s six doors as the performed the same play once again, but this time, the audience got to see what happens behind closed doors. The drama among the cast escalated. They tried to quietly deal with their fights and feelings backstage while simultaneously putting on the show.
Audience member, junior McKayla Fellers, thought the behind-the-scenes perspective was both “entertaining and informational.”
“I got to see the back side of theater, so it kind of made me feel like I was there the whole time,” Fellers said. “They try to keep their lives behind the stage out of on the stage, but it doesn’t always work.”
With the constant movement and coordination involved in achieving the metaphysical mind-bend that is a play within a play, the entire “Noises Off” cast had to seamlessly work together.
“I think it’s awesome how we incorporated like an ensemble kind of cast, instead of really having leads or main people that do the thing,” Cowling said. “It’s kind of like a dance, where everything has to go right, and if it doesn’t, stuff kind of crumbles. Having everyone work as a collective unit, it makes it work.
By the third act, after the set was turned back around and Europe’s “The Final Countdown” sounded, most of the characters couldn’t stand working with one another, and things definitely crumbled.
The same housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett, played by the fictional Dotty, played by the real-life freshman Lydia Baum, reenters the stage to begin the performance once again. This time, her hair is askew, there’s markings on her face, and she makes no effort to properly deliver her line, cursing and fluctuating her accent throughout.
The remainder of the play is a farcical, train-wreck performance of missed cues, misplaced props, and a total disregard for the plot. The characters repeatedly stop and whisper amid this final performance, floundering for some direction to get back on track.
It would be any performer’s worst nightmare and exactly what Cowling and the cast hoped to avoid. He expressed the added challenge of performing a realistic representation of such a disaster while trying to avoid a disaster yourself.
“It was a lot more stressful doing a fake play, because in a real play, you can go on the fly, but in a fake play, if things don’t line up, you don’t know where to go from there,” Cowling said. “But if you know where to go from in a real play, then you’re fine. So getting fake words is a lot harder to build off of than real words.”
Wendy King’s director’s note assured the crowd that “theatre isn’t really like this,” and run crew member sophomore Abbey Southworth, familiar with the ins and outs, confirmed.
“Oh my gosh, I don’t think it (theater) is that crazy, depending on where you’re at,” Southworth said. “It’s like an overexaggerated version of what really goes on.”
But it was that exaggerated ridiculousness and authentic caricature of a theatrical disaster that had the audience roaring with laughter throughout.
“It was very interactive. You got to see them mess up on purpose and see them struggle throughout,” Moore said. “It was very different from ones (plays) I’ve ever been to, so it was enjoyable.”