This blog has been a bit static lately. Not because I'm losing interest in theatre, but because my evenings have been increasingly taken up by rehearsals for Michael Frayn's smashing farce Noises Off. I'm helping out backstage in an amateur production in Sevenoaks by the Stag Theatre Company. We had the first of five performances last night, and it was a cracking success. This play is rarely staged by amateurs because it demands not only split-second timing, but also a two-storey set that has to be turned twice through 180 degrees. Farce badly performed by amateurs can be a dire experience, but this production has a very experienced director, Sandra Barfield, and an equally seasoned cast. As the Guardian pointed out by coincidence on Wednesday, amateur actors and crew are sometimes better equipped than professionals who only get the odd small part every few months. They are also more dedicated and can rehearse for longer. After living with this play for several weeks (I'm just the prompter) I know I have learned a great deal from the experience; one can't really attempt to write farce without doing it. One can read or watch comedy and absorb how it's done, but farce involves so much movement and physical comedy that it has to be experienced in three dimensions. Michael Frayn's play about actors is for me the funniest farce ever written. The plot motor of farce is always the need to deceive somebody and prevent them discovering the awful truth. In Feydeau's classic plays, one spouse is pulling the wool over the eyes of another. Frayn puts the audience in the role of the person who mustn't be allowed to see what is really going on backstage. Because he's quite a deep writer (remember Copenhagen and Democracy) the chaotic scenes on stage become a metaphor for our existence, when carefully learned lines and facades of behaviour collapse and we are left all at sea, hoping for a sudden blackout.
If you're anywhere near Sevenoaks, the play is being performed in the Ship Theatre in Walthamstow Hall School until June 2 and the box office number is 07990 592 737. This production has a wonderful set, wonderful actors and it's a lesson in how good amateur theatre can be at its very best.