BY JANET ALLEN, EXECUTIVE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Farce is a natural outgrowth of human endeavor, and an important one. On the surface, it appears merely to be aimed at triggering laugh reflexes, which are very healthful. But on a deeper level, it allows us to see that we are not in total control of our universe—that is, the banana peel can rise up and trip even the most enlightened among us. In farce, inanimate objects seem to have minds of their own. They can turn on us in an instant, if for no other reason than to prove that we are not the all-powerful creatures we wish to be. From a societal perspective, farce is therapeutic, and may have developed to put us in our place!
n the hands of British master writer Michael Frayn, farce is something more literate. Yes, the doors and phone cords (remember those?) and sardines and bags seem to have sentient abilities; but the human characters are scrambling to outwit these objects, and each other, at every turn. Frayn’s abilities as a writer are multifaceted and prodigious. Not only does he write plays in many genres, but he writes brilliant fiction (if you are looking for an interesting read, try his Headlong). Perhaps not surprisingly, he writes philosophy, biography, comic essays, and screenplays as well. We have done two other Frayn plays, each as different from Noises Off as imaginable. Benefactors (IRT 1990) focuses on midlife crises and a London architect’s fight against urban blight. Copenhagen (IRT 2002) is a theatrical debate between two brilliant physicists, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, about the idea of the atomic bomb.
This is the output of a wide-ranging brain, and that is apparent even in Noises Off (IRT 1999), easily the most accessible of Frayn’s writing endeavors. Here he focuses on a theatre company—something he knows more than a little about. The world loves to laugh at theatre artists—a fact that we, as theatre artists, sometimes rue! But we can’t argue with the fact that it’s easy to poke fun at our pretensions and clichés. The overwrought director, the aging diva, the beleaguered stage hand, the oblivious ingénue, the perennially sunny “fixer”: while all these stereotypes have equivalents in many businesses, they are perhaps funniest when selected from the entertainment industry for the purpose of entertaining.
The universe of farce is ultimately a safe one. We know that no door slam, no fall, no slap, no ripped costume will result in any real damage, so we are free to revel in mankind’s pretentions and peccadilloes. Perhaps that’s why farce is so needed right now. In a world where safety seems to be at a premium, it’s freeing to enter a world where we know everyone will come out the other side with only some bruised egos. It is a world that reminds us of our humanity—while tickling our funny bone.
The IRT produces top-quality, professional theatre that engages, surprises, challenges and entertains people throughout their lifetimes, helping to build a vital and vibrant community.
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