In 1970, English playwright Michael Frayn watched one of his productions from the wings.
“It was funnier from behind than in front,” he said. “I thought that, one day, I must write a farce from behind.” In 1982, Frayn’s wish was fulfilled when “Noises Off ” premiered in London.
In 1996 and 2005, Bob Gras directed the award-winning British farce for Riverwalk Theatre. Under Michael Hays’ direction, “Noises Off” returns to Riverwalk.
“Noises Off ” is not easy to pull off.
Riverwalk’s colossal set was designed by Leroy Cupp and constructed with seven other master builders. It features nine working doors, an upper walkway, a staircase, and detailed trimmings. And, yes, the facade rolls around to reveal an authentic “backstage” view.
It rotates a second time, returning to the front “audience” view. Complicated changes —including switching substantial props and set dressings by Sadonna Croff — require two separate intermissions. With those, the performance runs about three hours.
The beginning of “Noises Off ” reveals a farce rehearsal with a struggling cast and a harried director Lloyd Dallas — who curiously has an American accent — played by David Dunckel.
Nita Haberlein hilariously plays the Dotty Oatley character that pretends to be Mrs. Clackett. The newcomer to the stage makes an impressive debut as a befuddled caretaker with a thick, common British accent.
David Bilbey is the posh speaking professional, Garry Lajeune, who plays Roger Tramplemain. Cassie Little is Brooke Ashton, the rookie actress prone to losing contact lenses and outer garments who plays Vicki. John Liskey is the perfect drunken, foul-smelling Selsdon Mowbray who plays the burglar.
Maureen Sawdon is the gossipy Belinda Blair who plays Flavia Brent. She is the pretend wife of Philip Brent played by Frederick Fellowes, who is actually Greg Pratt.
Bilbey and Sawdon perform their complicated dual roles with a seeming ease.
Fearlessly, Little often wears not much more than a black teddy while never breaking character. “Noises Off ” is the most significant of Pratt’s few acting experiences and he shows a competency equal to his peers.
Erin Hoffman is convincing as frazzled assistant director Poppy Norton-Taylor. Gabe Weeks is believable as the overworked errand boy Tim Allgood. What is not believable, however, is the wavering English accents of most of the cast.
Director Hays does a wonderful job of keeping tricky timing and problematic entrances and exits on their marks.
Conner Kelly also deserves recognition for being the much needed, “Stunt and Scuffle Choreographer.”
By the third act — a performance of the mock play “Noises On” — the energy of the cast and audience fades. The addition of a love triangle and pregnancy help the goofiness wane.
“Noises Off” Tickets start at $12
7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 6 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 7 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 Riverwalk Theatre 228 Museum Dr. Lansing www.riverwalktheatre.com (517) 482-5700