INNISFAIL - In the second act of Innisfail Town Theatre’s Noises Off, Mrs. Clackett repeats a rather odd mantra.
“Sardines, sardines...don’t think twice about it - take the plunge. You'll really enjoy it here,” said Mrs. Clackett.
She’s played by Dotty Otley, a fictional middle-aged television star who has a big role in a theatre production called Nothing On, a play within Noises Off, a three-act production created in 1982 by English playwright Michael Frayn.
Frayn’s Noises Off is about a theatrical group’s chaotic life, and it’s brilliantly performed and directed in the latest Innisfail Town Theatre (ITT) spring production. On May 14, ITT performed the last performance of a nine-show run at the Ol’ Moose Hall.
Noises Off is a hilarious jaw-dropping slapstick interpretation of how a group of dysfunctional actors try to cope with a raging director challenging them to do better as their own lives sink into the deepest end of comical madness.
Somehow, as Mrs. Clackett noted, there’s a sincere belief that everyone involved does enjoy all the bizarre dysfunction around them, in a most twisted way.
There are overloads of quarrelling that begin with the overbearing director during a dress rehearsal over the misuse and misplacing of newspapers, telephones, and sardines.
The audience is then witness to anxiety setting in with doors repeatedly slamming shut, simmering romantic rivalries, repeated trouser dropping, menacing axe-wielding scenes, whisky sipping, lost contact lenses, and the always weird sardine chatter.
All of this madness is taken to the extreme, but the nine-member cast of Noises Off pulled it off expertly – especially the execution of the frenetic pacing demanded in Act II.
“It was pages at a time. We would do one, two or three pages at a time, and we just rehearsed the ever-living heck out of it,” said co-director Rob Burton, who also played the part of the play’s directors. “It was a month on Act II alone.
“The tricky thing about it is that timing needs to be so precise,” he added, noting there were little glitches but everything “mostly” went to plan. “If the timing goes sideways, it’s really not funny. Three weeks before we opened it wasn’t super funny. We needed to tighten up the timing.”
However, co-director Kim Norlin added Noises Off is a production that can also be “forgiving” with many things seemingly gone wrong, like a prop falling apart or breaking.
“It can be very forgiving that way because it’s supposed to be a bunch of errors anyways but very demanding with the timing,” said Norlin. “You still have to have the timing.”
The third and final act closed with the Nothing On cast finishing their final show near the end of the 10-week run.
The sardines are back, and Mrs. Clackett quickly realizes she’s sitting on them. There are also continued problems with the newspaper and telephone. The sardines wind up on the floor under the newspaper.
Nothing much has really changed. Chaos continues. But determined efforts by saner character cast members gives Nothing On some sort of semblance of a reasonable conclusion, even if it’s still downright dysfunctional.
When the curtain is finally set to fall, Selsdon, a burglar character in Nothing On, answers the call for a last line.
“When all around is strife and uncertainty, there's nothing like a good old-fashioned plate of......,” he muttered.
You can only believe he’s really talking about sardines.
After seeing Noises Off, sardines can never ever be viewed the same way again.