Theatre Review: “Noises Off” at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival

Catch Noises Off at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival … but hurry.

Far, far too often, I hear people complaining about the lack of good theatre in Atlanta. Frankly, this always mystifies me. I find myself asking, what have you seen? Did you catch The Alliance’s brilliant productions of The Road to Mecca or Dancing at Lughnasa? (For that matter, did you know the Alliance won a Tony?) Did you see Theatrical Outfit’s amazing The Blood Knot (a show so powerful that, years later, I still have trouble talking about it) or Confederacy of Dunces? Or heck, have you seen anything at Horizon Theatre? Or Push Push? Or Dad’s Garage? Or the Center for Puppetry Arts? Or The New American Shakespeare Tavern? If not, I tell them, see a few shows. Then tell me there’s no good theatre here. I dare you.

Did you miss the Georgia Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Tempest this summer? The Tempest was exceptionally well performed, and I say that as one who has seen Shakespeare at the RSC, the Globe, and London’s West End. If you missed it, you missed a treat. If you haven’t seen Georgia Shakespeare Festival’s production of Noises Off, featuring much of the same remarkable cast, you’re about to miss another.

Noises Off may well be the funniest play — or one of them anyway — in the entire canon of modern theatre. I can’t remember ever laughing so hard at a live performance. It’s a genius mix of fast entrances and exits, rapid dialogue, and, yes, physical comedy. Not to mention doors and sardines. Noises Off doesn’t merely exemplify classic farce, it practically defines it.

Noises Off tells of a company of fifth or sixth-rate actors struggling to perform a British bedroom farce called Nothing On — a play within a play, or rather a farce within a farce. The first act shows us the final dress rehearsal. Act Two takes us back stage for a performance midway through the run, and the final scene shows us the final performance — with each act somehow managing to top the others for sidesplitting disaster.

The show is hilarious, always, but this cast, along with Richard Garner’s inspired direction and choreography, makes it even better. Act Two, when the actors are essentially performing two plays at once, is the single funniest half-hour I have witnessed in ages, but the final scene, somehow, manages to top it. I laughed so hard I literally lost my breath at times. I can’t recommend Noises Off highly enough.

I think one of the reasons that people complain about the lack of theatre here in Atlanta is that shows don’t run very long, and with funds stretched thin, they aren’t promoted as strongly as you’d hope. So it’s up to us as audiences to seek out the gems that surround us. It takes effort, but it’s worth it. If you blink, you’re going to miss something amazing. My advice? Don’t blink.

In the meantime, see Noises Off. Seriously. Don’t miss it. But hurry. It closes this weekend. By the way, the program contains a program within a program for Nothing On, the play within a play. The director’s notes therein are worth the price of admission alone.

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