Review: Noises Off (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper presents the comedic meta play Noises Off at the Young Centre in Toronto

“Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s the theatre. That’s life!” exclaims an exasperated director to his exhausted, confused and eccentric cast during a desperate, late night dress rehearsal. And so, right then, we get it. Those falling props and slamming doors feel like chaos, but farce only works when all the elements align with precision and focus!

Soulpepper’s production of Michael Frayn’s meta farce, Noises Off, is a well oiled machine. It is also, I am thrilled to report, hilarious and exhilarating. 

In the first act, we see the clumsy, rushed dress rehearsal for a sex farce. We are shown the plot of this play within a play and introduced to the characters and the actors portraying them. Those actors, the director, the stage manager and their sole tech guy (who functions as carpenter, accountant and errand boy too!) each have their own quirks and romantic entanglements within this jinxed company.

For the second and third acts we get to see two disastrous performances, first the backstage antics, then the onstage spectacle. As this motley crew fight and pursue each other during the run of the play, we watch two farces play out before our eyes.

The physical comedy is great on its own, but there is so much amusing truth in this poor company’s efforts. Anyone who has put on a play or two will nod their heads knowingly. The situation is ludicrous, exaggerated for optimum comedic effect, of course, but everything is grounded in the all-too-real joys and frustrations of “the theatre” (say it in your best Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts accent).

Despite the iconic performers whom I have grown to love in the film version (Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve), I never once thought about any of them while I sat watching this spectacular production. The ensemble cast, all nine of them, give us colourful, endearing characters.

For me, the biggest surprise was Anand Rajaram’s high-strung Tim, the overworked technician. I’ve never found that character the least compelling until Rajaram’s delightfully twitchy and offbeat performance.

As someone acquainted with the film, I found myself paying more attention, here, to the overall gestalt. In the film, with close-ups and editing, I was more aware of the specifics of the plot and romantic entanglements. On stage, where the focus is less specific, I marvelled at the sheer spectacle of it all: nine charismatic goofballs stumbling about, perfectly in tune, in real time…well, just wow!

Ted Dykstra’s direction is, as always, visually exciting without any particular element drawing attention to itself. This isn’t a high concept staging; it’s simple and solid.

With a clever script and exceptionally well-executed pratfalls, Noises Off is great fun!


  • Noises Off is playing until October 22, 2016 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (52 Tank House Lane, Distillery Historic District)
  • Shows run Monday through Sunday at 7:30pm, with matinees Saturday/Wednesday at 1:30pm
  • Tickets are $32 to $89 and can be purchased online, by phone (416.866.8666) or at the Yonge Centre Box Office

Photo of Brenda Robins, Matthew Edison, Raquel Duffy and Christopher Morris by Bronwen Sharp

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