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Not ... exactly a textbook farce, not exactly a backstager, not even exactly a play, Noises Off is a repeating exploration of everything that can go wrong in live theatre. All at once. With perfect, split-second timing. Written by the author of the John Cleese movie Clockwise. Done right, this work of staggering theatrical genius can make you wet your pants - either from laughing too hard (if you don't have extensive backstage theatrical experience) or from horrified flashbacks (if you do).

The play is in three acts; the first depicts what happens on stage during the dress rehearsal for a Feydeau door-slamming sex farce that's opening in mere hours, with a cast that hasn't had the rehearsal time they'd like, one of whom is not all there, one of whom is even less there, one of whom has trouble with blood, another of whom has trouble with finishing sentences, and, of course, with sardines. We see the Show Within a Show proceed, with the occasional pause for corrections, mistakes, errors, rumors, misunderstandings, and of course, sardines.

The second act shows us backstage at the same play after it's opened and has been running a while, when all of the petty jealousies, rivalries, irritations, and pet peeves have been well stoked and are in full flower. Axes, sardines, and whiskey all make their appearances, and part of the charm at this point is watching the actors attempt to kill each other while still managing to make it out onto the "stage" on cue.

The third act then wraps everything up with another iteration of the first act, as the audience would see it, after the cast has been on the road for far too long.

The film version adds a bit of narrative around the whole thing, and gives it something close to a happy ending; it's still a bit odd for those people who simply have to have a traditional story.

This Play Has Examples of the Following Tropes:

  • Adaptation Decay: The film includes a happy ending not seen in the play, as well as some subplots.
    • Also, being a movie, it's presented with cuts and multiple camera angles. The play - Act II especially - is much more impressive when it's being performed live, because there's no safety net.
  • The Alcoholic: Selsdon.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: At one point, a character quietly moving about backstage inadvertently shouts "OH MY GOD!"... precisely on cue.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The two extra burglar suits come into play in one of the last gags of the play.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The director has seen it all, and is not happy about having done so.
  • Farce: It's a farce about a theatre troupe performing a farce.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: The film version has Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, John Ritter, and Christopher Reeve, as well as Mark Linn-Baker, Denholm Elliot, Marilu Henner, and Julie Hagerty. The sheer samurai ninja master scene-stealing that goes on is something to behold.
  • It Got Worse: Every production of the Show Within a Show ends up getting more and more chaotic, until eventually most of the actors are making things up as they go along.
  • Lingerie Scene: Brooke/Vicki, and not just a scene, the whole play.
  • Love Triangle: There's a prominent love triangle between Lloyd, Poppy, and Brooke.
  • Meaningful Name: Garry Lejeune is pretty jejune (which then becomes a subversion when he gets violently jealous), and Dotty is... dotty.
  • No Ending: In the play, jarringly so. Michael Frayn couldn't seem to find an ending, so the play simply... stops.
  • Only Sane Man: Belinda
  • Precision F-Strike: Lloyd reacts badly to the constantly changing start times.

 Lloyd: What the FUCK is going on?!

    • Another one (possibly the first one in the play?) is when one of the actors in the Show Within a Show talks to the director:

 Garry: "I've worked with a lot of directors, Lloyd. Some of them were geniuses, some of them were bastards, but I've never met one who was so totally and absolutely... I don't know."

Lloyd: "Thank you, Garry, I'm very touched, now get off the fucking stage."

  • Proscenium Reveal: The play opens with a housekeeper walking on stage and nattering into the phone. Then as she's walking off, she says, "I take the sardines... I leave the sardines..." and an off-stage director's voice says, "You take the sardines, and you leave the newspaper." This reveals that what you're actually watching is a rehearsal of a Play Within a Play.
  • The Rashomon: Well, not really. But it is three distinct takes on the same story - it's just three different runthroughs of the same act, not three different people telling different versions.
  • Rule of Threes
    • Roger: "We'll only just manage to fit it in. I mean, we'll only just do it. I mean, we won't bother to chill the champagne."
    • Roger: "I just came to go into a few things. *SLAM* Well, to check some of the measurements. *SLAM* Do one or two odd jobs."
    • Also lampshaded by Dotty when Tim, Selsdon, and Lloyd enter as the Burglar in act 3.
  • Running Gag
    • Sardines. Sardines come on. Sardines come off. It's all about the sardines, love.
    • That's drama. That's theatre. That's life.
      • You're SO deep.
    • Door gags.
    • "And God said . . . ."
    • Brooke's contact lenses.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Garry does fine when reciting lines, but whenever he's off script he doesn't start a single thought without forgetting how it... you know?
  • The Show Must Go On: The whole play is an illustration of this trope. The theatrical version, however, implies that the show is an utter failure in the end.
  • Show Within a Show: Nothing On. Noises Off does its best to pass Nothing On off as a real play, as the program will be for Nothing On, with the cast, director, and the author having biographies in the theater program - and as many references to sardines as possible. There are even fake ads in the program, including restaurants bragging about - of course - their sardines.
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