Noises Off, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
It is perfectly conceivable that you could sit through three acts of Michael Frayn's homage to the Great British farce and emerge thinking: "Thank God they don't make them like that any more". For anyone who grew up with the politically correct mores of the 1980s alternative-comedy scene, the idea of a theatre audience willingly subjecting themselves to an evening of unvarnished sexist stereotypes, double entendres, relentless running gags and, of course, those dropping trousers seems unimaginably alien.
So why then is Noises Off so fantastically, laugh-out-loud-couldn't-give-a-monkeys enjoyable?
One reason is that this production, at what must be the most beautifully located and friendly theatre in Britain, is performed with unadulterated brilliance by the cast. Ben Ingles is acrobatic with no apparent thought for his own safety as the play's increasingly demented leading man Garry Lejeune. So too Heather Saunders in fetching leopardskin underwear as the brain-dead but busty Brooke, while the rest deliver their roles with equal aplomb.
Another is that the play's conceit is brilliantly clever. A team of struggling actors take their under-rehearsed farce Nothing On through a grim odyssey of Britain's provincial theatres, culminating in an unhinged climax (fnarr fnarr) at Stockton-on-Tees. Prior to this we see the play from two other perspectives. First at dress rehearsal under the cruel gaze of its libidinous and deluded director, and then in a negative exposure – backstage, where the sad passions of theatre life on the road spill over in brilliant slapstick.
Frayn has admitted that writing this intricately plotted play was among the hardest things he ever did and fully expected it never to be performed. First staged in 1982, at the height of the alternative revolution when pants-down humour was on its last legs, it has continued to delight audiences and critics alike in repeated revivals not just in Britain but across the world.
There are obviously profound things going on this romp, although Frayn was forced into a rewrite when he tried to use the tawdry misadventures of our low-rent thespians to hold up a mirror to the human condition. They are still there but you're too busy enjoying yourself to bother looking for them.
In rep until 9 November (017687 74411)
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 2 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 3 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
Poldark star Heida Reed says show is not that racy: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
House of Cards season 3: Claire Underwood is based on an eagle, says Robin Wright
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut