Nothing On

I haven’t been to any live musical events for a fortnight now, and it is a week to go before the next, but that’s not what I mean.

Nothing On is the title of the play-within-a-play in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off which D and I went to see at NIDA on Friday night.

I’m an infrequent theatre-goer. In part, my musical dry spell motivated me to seek something out, but the immediate impetus was Victor‘s brief but reliable account.

We almost didn’t go. First I baulked at the Ticketek booking fee and at the last minute the car had a flat battery. By then I had paid the fee and bought the tickets, so it was more than lucky that our friendly neighbour lent us her car.

ANZAC Parade from Kingsford to Kensington on a Friday night is a lively precinct. Maybe on this occasion the liveliness had something to do with the end of semester. NIDA has a plethora of shows running and there was a distinct atmosphere to the foyer – slightly luvvie, a touch festive, theatre industry types and NIDA invitees, students and their friends, and a smattering of General Public. The main Parade Theatre, as I’ve commented before, is an inviting space with a more traditional theatre-ish feel than most venues in Sydney.

Noises Off is built on an ingenious conceit. The first act is a desperately last-minute tech-rehearsal of the first act of Nothing On, a multi-doored farce. There won’t be a dress rehearsal per se: “Just think of the first night as the final dress” the director tells the cast – one of many theatrical in-jokes to which this particular audience responded enthusiastically.

For the second act the set turns round and the multiple door exits and entrances are reversed as we are given the backstage drama of a mid-run performance. It’s nothing serious – we’re not talking The Dresser, here, but it is something of a tour de force of frenetic physical activity. Structurally, the ingenuity is that it builds on the first act (which we have already seen in rehearsal) which purports to proceed on the other side of the set.

The third act turns the set back around and we are by now at the end of the run as the actors struggle to hold things together.

On Friday the play was performed with only one interval. For me, the third act suffered because of this, though maybe it was always going to be an anticlimax after the second.

D and I both enjoyed it and it had us talking over dinner at home afterwards until well after midnight. D was less accepting than I of the standard of performance. I thought it was good enough. I could imagine a better performance but there were bits which were admirably and even, in context, brilliantly done and the moments when I was specifically conscious of any particular shortcoming were few. It was certainly good enough for $28 or even for $30.475, if you include the booking fee.

We both thought that the strong point of the performances lay in the physical theatre. To me, that is part of the modern style of acting (which can sometimes become problematic in more classical plays). As a non-native speaker, D is particularly sensitive to clarity of diction, where he found the standard variable. I suspect D also probably has rather old fashioned tastes about what constitutes “acting.”

D thought it was probably quite an easy play and in some ways that must be true (this is no Hamlet and if you look on the web you can see it is assayed by a wide range of companies). My own view is that no play is easy even if it is easy in some ways. To adopt analogies closer to my own home ground, Noises Off is more of a Litolff Scherzo Humorestique or even a Saint-Saens 2nd Concerto second or third movement than a the first movement of either Brahms Piano Concerto. The latter require depth, but that doesn’t mean that the former won’t benefit from polish and sprezzatura. (I couldn’t find a web-transcription of Peter Katin’s performance of the Litolff which illustrates that point very well in comparison to any number of other more sedate versions.)

You might think from the following passage that this is a play with philosophical pretensions:

“That’s what it’s all about. Doors and sardines. Getting on – getting off. Getting the sardines on – getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s the theatre. That’s life.”

If so, you’d be wrong: it’s a nice night’s entertainment. And that’s not such a bad thing at all. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned plate of sardines.

One Response to “Nothing On

  1. Victor Says:

    ‘It was certainly good enough for $28 or even for $30.475, if you include the booking fee.’

    It was even better value for Cs and I at the Senior’s concession rate to which we are both entitled but I agree the booking fee was a bit steep by comparison..

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