SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 22, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — “Noises Off,” the critically acclaimed play known as “one of the funniest farces ever written,” opens at the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
Director Anne Stewart Mark is no stranger to the production. She’s played the beloved role of Belinda five times through the years and directed the play for the Grand Theatre once before.
In an interview segment with Gephardt Daily, Mark and I chatted about the show and why its reputation makes its production all the more fun and challenging.
“‘Noises Off’ is a marvelous farce written by Michael Frayn,” Mark said. “He wrote it in the early 80s and he has revised it about three times, not always for the better to my estimation. Some have said it’s the funniest play ever written; that puts a huge onus on a production, but it is one of the best of its genre, shall we say.
“It is a play within a play. It is a company of actors who are not terribly brilliant at their craft — though the real actors are — performing a British sex farce. And they’re in rehearsal in the first act, and then in the subsequent acts, two and three things begin to deteriorate because of personalities that get in the way, and little tiffs and such.”
Frayn had the idea for the play in 1970, while watching a performance of “The Two of Us,” a farce that he had written for Lynn Redgrave from the wings. He said at the time, “It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.”
The prototype, a short-lived one-act play called “Exits,” was written and performed in 1977. Frayn expanded this into what would become “Noises Off.” It takes its title from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage.
The play premièred at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, London, in 1982. It opened to excellent reviews and shortly after transferred to the Savoy Theatre in the West End, where it ran until 1987 with five successive casts. It also ran on Broadway for 553 performances and won numerous awards.
The play also has enjoyed various revivals in the West End and on Broadway; a new production celebrating the play’s 40th birthday and starring Felicity Kendal will be touring the UK in October 2022.
Mark’s history with “Noises Off” and the role of Belinda, described as a “reliable actress and the company’s de facto peacemaker” makes her a natural when it comes to the show’s direction.
“This is the hardest piece to perform in that I have ever experienced,” Mark said, “and it’s because it requires so much focus and concentration and timing, and as the acts change and deteriorate between the company with the shenanigans that happen, there’s just enough change in the text of the script that if you’re not very careful you don’t know where you are, and so it requires little cheating notes in your pocket, stickies on the back of the set.
“The set changes, so the first act is inside this converted posset mill, sixteenth century so it says, and then the set rotates and we get to watch the second act from the back side, which is hilarious, and so it’s all right to have your little cheaters back there, because it’s sort of one of the functions of the play.”
She said she performed the show each time with Salt Lake City stalwart Max Robinson.
“I was privileged enough to do it with the great comedian Max Robinson, playing opposite him all five times. Other members of the cast changed, but he and I were fortunate to do it together, and I learned to be Max Robinson’s straight woman very well,” she said.
“He’s just so brilliant it was easy to be his straight woman. But there was a time when I’m supposed to slap him in the original script, and I practically cold cocked him one night, I got a little carried away, it was not a stage slap. He wasn’t acting at all; if he’d have been a cartoon there would have been little circles of birdies going ’round him…”
She said the Grand Theatre, which seats around 1,000 people, is a perfect venue for this show because of the size of the stage.
“The stage is huge and rotates, so they have the ability to put a great big set on that stage, which is great. The seating in the audience is very, very wide, which makes my job a little more difficult when it comes to sight line issues, so it’s hard to have a bad seat in the house, but it makes my job a little harder.”
Mark said in terms of COVID protocols, masks are suggested, but there is no mask mandate in place. “We masked as a company for the entire rehearsal process until we were onstage in costume, when we took the masks off, so I could see everybody’s face.”
She added that she believes “Noises Off” is a good show to produce in the current climate. “That’s why the producer Seth Miller chose it. He chose light pieces for his whole season because he knew coming back that everybody had had enough doom and gloom; we needed our spirits lifted, and there’s nothing more inspiring than sitting in the dark with a group of people watching something funny and just having that lovely laughter release. So he chose the season very particularly.”
“Noises Off” plays at the Grand Theatre, at 1575 S. State St., from March 24 to April 16, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. There is a half-price preview night on March 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available from grandtheatrecompany.com or by calling 801-957-3322. It is rated PG-13 for language and mature themes.