If you think “Inception” commanded a novel approach to entertainment, Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” may impress with its own play-within-a-play dynamic. The School of Music, Theatre & Dance is presenting the comedic ’80s play starting tomorrow.
Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
Director and MT&D Prof. John Neville-Andrews explained that the show revolves around a group of nine actors in the midst of rehearsing their upcoming play. As the performance evolves, “Nothing On,” the play-within-a-play, begins to unravel as each actor deals with personal drama.
At one point, the set flips around and the show becomes a portrayal of the backstage dramatics that ensue as “Nothing On” begins its stage run.
“They’ve been on the road for a month and things have deteriorated,” Neville-Andrews said. “It’s a lot of fun (seeing the) backstage. It’s a lot of miming, because obviously they can’t talk, so it’s a lot of people walking around doing things without talking. It’s rather funny because then another actor gets involved, people are throwing things at each other, and someone’s always trying to find the whiskey bottle.”
Despite having taken part in a multitude of other plays and performances, Neville-Andrews remains loyal to “Noises Off,” and he said this play was one of his favorites to direct.
“I always come back to this play, even though it’s incredibly difficult — the timing, the precision. It needs to be extremely precise or it doesn’t hold together,” he said.
The difficulty of “Noises Off,” according to Neville-Andrews, comes from its dual-acting, its set and its comedic timing. Each actor must play two characters, so they’re essentially putting on two plays. This entails a precision in all comedic interludes and nuances so as not to confuse the audience. The set, composed of a split level and seven doors, requires navigational timing as well as quick spatial recognition.
“We were fortunate in that they built the set for us early and we were able to work on the set from day one,” Neville-Andrews said. “Actors can’t really rehearse this play with the take on the floor.”
Despite the play being in 1982 — the time it originally ran — Neville-Andrews emphasized that the comedy translates easily and audiences today will enjoy it as much as in the past.
“We’re going back in time to where things are very different, but it is an out-bound comedy which is something important and rare this day and age in theater,” Neville-Andrews said. “We (as an audience) are not being asked to think a great deal. We’re being asked to collaborate and enjoy what we see in front of us.”
Neville-Andrews added that theater comedy provides audiences with something that they wouldn’t be able to get from a movie or Netflix binge, providing a live connection in which audience members are able to interact with the show on stage.
“You’re obviously making a contribution when you’re in the theater. Here (in the theater) we can make them cry, make them feel mad or make them laugh their backsides off,” Neville-Andrews said. “There’s contact between the theater people and the audience, which always has to be taken into consideration.”