When “Noises Off” first came onto Robert Leembruggen’s radar screen some 20 years ago in a high school production he attended, his reaction was: “What a ridiculous play.”
That was a compliment.
“I had no idea what to expect,” he explained. “It completely took me in, and left an impression.”
Leembruggen grew “more enamored” of the play 10 years ago when he was cast in a production. Now he has a more-challenging role: directing “Noises Off” for The British Players.
Originally formed as The British Embassy Players, the group performed there for 40 years until moving in 2005 to a Kensington venue.
Leembruggen himself is British, but that’s not a requirement to appear in the Players’ productions.
“Noises Off,” a comedy by Michael Frayn, is decidedly British. Called by one English newspaper “the funniest farce ever,” it has birthed an entire genre of plays that parody but also pay loving tribute to theater.
It’s also a play within a play: an inept English touring company and its exasperated director wreak havoc on a sex comedy they’re presenting called “Noises On” as well complicating their own lives. As farce, “Noises Off” offers slamming doors, slight disrobing and broad humor, not to mention situations that would be improbable, if not for the fact that theater itself is unpredictable.
The play’s three acts take place, successively, in a tech rehearsal; a matinee performance a month later seen from backstage and a performance at the end of the show’s run.
Part of the challenge of producing the comedy is that it’s usually done on a rotating stage, something “you generally can’t find in a proscenium (traditional) theater,” said Leembruggen.
“We didn’t have the head room to do a two-level stage either, so we had to break it down, with a raised platform in the middle,” Leembruggen added.
One challenge that didn’t materialize was the inability to find performers willing and able to keep up with the “breakneck pace” of Frayn’s comedy. Fifty-five actors show up at auditions to fill nine roles, and “I got what I wanted,” he said.
One of the play’s joys, added the director, is that each character has a distinguishing personality.
There is, for example, Dotty Otley (offstage) playing Mrs. Clackett (on).
Dotty, a late middle-aged American actress with mostly TV credits wants to return to the stage and is “still a bit of a diva,” said Liz Weber, making her British Players debut in the dual role. She also has romantic issues when dating one of the actors, but trying to make him jealous with another.
Mrs. Clackett, in contrast, is a Cockney housekeeper, “dizzy and forgetful but like of those servants in opera who’s the smartest one.”
Weber focused on opera and musical theater until recently, when she shifted to straight plays. She also moved from ingénue roles to those “for a mature actress.”
Like Leembrugggen, she had seen “Noises Off” a long time ago, and was “impressed.” So, when she heard of a local production in the works, she was eager to try out.
“It’s a hilarious comedy,” Weber said. “But it’s a different kind of comedy. A British farce, forcing us to romp around the stage. It’s daunting.”
In dealing with physical comedy, it helps to focus on the story line which explains, for example, why Dotty picks up something (spoiler alert) and goes after her lover. “It also helps to think of it as choreography,” Weber said.
“Noises Off” also features Heather Benjamin, Jim Hild, Eric Jones, Preston Meche, Jayde Mora, Peter Moses, Brianna Paris and Roger Stone.
Frayn’s comedy play opens March 8 and continues through the 30th at Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street, Kensington. For tickets, call 240-447-9863. www.britishplayers.org.
Photo Caption: Cast of British Players’ “Noises Off” illustrates comedy’s mayhem. The comedy plays opens March 8 through the 30th at Kensington Town Hall.