Actress Maureen Beattie says she has been overwhelmed by the audience response to the revival of Michael Frayn’s comedy Noises Off.
Maureen said of the play, that is visiting the Lyceum from Monday (May 13) to Saturday 18: “It’s a work of genius. There’s no question about that. It’s widely regarded as the finest play ever written. It’s extraordinary how it builds.”
The story tells of a pretty awful theatre company putting on a dire play. The action is split into three sections: at first the audience see the actors perform the play, then the scene switches to antics that are going on backstage as the play is being performed in the background. Finally, it switches back round again to the play at the end of the tour when things have pretty much fallen to pieces.
Maureen is a familiar face to viewers of TV series like Lewis, The Bill, Taggart and Casualty. She plays a dual role of actress Dotty Otley, who performs the role of housekeeper Mrs Clackett. She said the character, who is a posh and slightly old-fashioned sitcom actress, “has basically lost her mind and gone mad” by the end of the play.
“Everybody on stage is either wanting to kill somebody or wanting to get off with somebody.”
Maureen said that Michael Frayn “has a wonderful forensic sense of humour” and expertly layers laugh upon laugh.
She added that he very cleverly plants a key idea in the audience’s mind early on that won’t become obvious until the third act, when it raises a huge laugh when people realise what has happened.
Maureen said: “It’s really marvellous to be playing something where you open your mouth and people are laughing at what you’ve said.
“When we were all starting rehearsals and meeting each other, we were all saying we will be the first company that don’t get any laughs out of the play. But it’s so failsafe and so funny.”
She said that the company are nothing like the shambolic group on stage. There is so much complicated quickfire action, including some amazing stunts, that everyone has to know exactly what they are doing and they rely on each other to get things right. Maureen added: “This play would be a nightmare to do if you didn’t get on.”
Apparently all the running around keeps the cast very fit. Maureen joked that she can eat what she likes while she is playing the role.
She added: “We’re always working on it on the tour. We keep it alive and fresh.
“My dad Johnny Beattie is in the business – he’s a famous comedian in Scotland.
“Whenever he started in panto in mid-November, the show would go on until the end of March. He would go into the dressing room and write ‘first performance’ across the mirror in red lipstick. It was to remind him that you might be doing your 195th performance as dame but the audience is in for the first time and deserve a fresh performance.
“In the show we might not have it written upon our mirrors but we make sure we remember it.”
Maureen said she is looking forward to stopping in Sheffield on the tour.
She said: “I know Sheffield. I’ve worked in both theatres on all three stages – both the Crucible main house and Studio and the Lyceum, where I was in Rebecca playing Mrs Danvers. I always enjoy coming because it’s a good city, Sheffield.”