Noises Off is a 1982 play by Michael Frayn, which he had first conceived in 1970 when watching from the wings a performance of The Two of Us, a farce that he had written for Lynn Redgrave. He said, “It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.”

Noises Off was the progenitor of many similar farces, including the wonderful The Play That Goes Wrong by Mischief Theatre which was premiered in 2012, and followed by the equally amusing and successful Pewter Pan Goes Wrong, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery and others.

Having seen the last three, I was delighted to find out that Noises Off was touring and coming to Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from 24th or 28th October, as part of a 7-venue tour including Chichester Festival theatre from 9th to 13th January 2024.

And happily, I was not disappointed. The staging is great, and we are immediately plunged into the last day of rehearsals when we get to understand the characters and things start to fray at the edges.

The lovely Liza Goddard plays Dotty, an ageing actress who has put some of her limited money into the production in hope of a great return. Simon Shepherd plays our director, having affairs with both the leading lady (Lisa Ambalavanar) and assistant stage manager (Nikhita Lesler). Our leading man (Dan Fredenburgh) is prone to jealousy and despairing rage, while Simon Coates and Lucy Robinson play Frederick and Belinda, the first rather dim-witted and reflective, the latter a sensible ‘let’s keep the show on the road’ trouper who rather steals the final few scenes. Daniel Rainford plays the rather hapless stage manager and Matthew Kelly plays Selsdon Mowbray, an elderly line-forgetting, whisky-addled old boy, who purposely stumbles through his scenes with great energy and terrific comedy timing.

The second scene turns the stage around and so we literally go backstage and this is where the real mayhem commences. The cast are arguing and falling out, while trying to perform the show in front of their small, elderly audience. There is great energy and skill in acting this mayhem, and very funny it is too.

After a small pause, we arrive at scene three. The last performance of the tour, and everyone is exhausted. It mirrors the first scene, but everything now starts to unravel and go wrong. And does so in a very amusing way, with some lovely laugh-out-loud moments, with great performances from all the actors. The almost capacity audience in Guildford loved it, as did I.

Noises Off is not quite as madcap or stage-destroying as The Play That Goes Wrong, it’s rather more genteel and old fashioned yet is still a rip roaring way to brighten up an autumnal evening…

Stefan Reynolds