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Lyric life

Noises Off by Michael Frayn: 1982 & 2019 – #Lyric125

In celebration of our 125th birthday, we’re looking back at some of the people and work that have made us who we are today –

On the 11 February 1982 Michael Frayn’s play Noises Off premiered at the recently reopened Lyric, directed by Michael Blakemore with Patricia Routledge as the leading lady Dotty Otley. It opened to great critical acclaim and transferred to the Savoy Theatre on the 31 March where it ran until 1987 with five successive casts and winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy. Nearly 40 years later Noises Off returned home in a new production directed by Jeremy Herrin, with Meera Syal as the leading lady Dotty Otley, opening on 02 July 2019, once again it transferred to the West End this time to the Garrick Theatre.

Michael Frayn on Noises off before the 2019 revival: ‘What the read-through of the present production reminded me of was not so much my difficulties as author, but the skill and courage of all the thousands of actors who have performed the play since – and of the slightly insane confidence displayed by Jeremy Herrin, and of every other director who over the years has looked at the tangle of stage directions on the pages of Act Two and thought that they could somehow manage to give them three-dimensional physical form.   Particularly, of course, of Michael Blakemore, the director of that first production here in Hammersmith, who had no precedents to encourage him.  He persuaded me to restructure and rewrite, and also suggested a great many new ideas. Without him the play would have gone no further.’

Patricia Routledge on playing Dotty: ‘I was in New York, just finishing The Pirates of Penzance, when they sent the script over. It was so brilliant, I agreed on the spot. That said, it wasn’t quite finished: some jokes didn’t work, and it was fiendishly complicated. Michael Blakemore insisted on a full mock-up of the set in the rehearsal room, which you almost never get. It wasn’t a luxury, though. There was just no other way we could do it – the timing needs to be perfect. I kept bashing into doors, or having them bash into me. I got through two bottles of arnica in rehearsals alone. I was playing Dotty Otley, the leading lady of the company, with delusions of grandeur. I’ve never met anyone quite as bad as her, but the standard of acting in the play-within-the-play had to be very tatty: that was the point. In the early days, even after we transferred to the West End, we had a few walk-outs. Some people clearly thought they were watching a genuinely terrible piece of theatre. I suppose we must have been convincingly second-rate.’

1982 company at the Lyric:

Directed by Michael Blakemore / Design by Michael Annals / Lighting by Spike Gaden

Cast included Michael Aldridge, Yvonne Antrobus, Paul Eddington, Ray Edwards, Nicky Henson, Roger Lloyd Pack, Rowena Roberts, Patricia Routledge and Jan Waters.

2019 company at the Lyric:

Directed by Jeremy Herrin / Design by Max Jones / Lighting design by Amy Mae / Sound Design by Lorna Munden

Cast included Lois Chimimba, Jonathan Cullen, Debra Gillett, Amy Morgan, Enyi Okoronkwo, Lloyd Owen, Daniel Rigby, Simon Rouse and Meera Syal.