REVIEW: ‘Noises Off’ Brings Down the House at Meadow Brook Theatre with Hijinks and Hilarity

This season, Meadow Brook Theatre (MBT) has taken audiences on a journey that has included the blues (Blues in the Night), honky tonk (Honky Tonk Angels), complex relationships (Birthday Club, Harry Townsend’s Last Stand), and a killer plant (Little Shop of Horrors). However, they may have saved the best for last with Noises Off, which runs until June 25, 2023, at Meadow Brook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Mich.

Written by English playwright Michael Frayn in 1982, there is also a 1992 Peter Bogdanovich-directed movie starring comedic icons Carol Burnett and John Ritter, which has an altered ending Frayn wasn’t so keen on. Whether you love the play, or movie, or have never seen either, this show is hysterical and the cast MBT has assembled to pull off this farce is as they say, ‘chef’s kiss.’

Noises Off is essentially a play within a play featuring a troupe of eccentric actors who are attempting to perform a touring production of Nothing On in Great Britain. There are even fictional cast bios in the program for the characters the MBT actors are portraying.

Nothing On takes place in the living room of a country house. The first act finds the bumbling brood painfully trying to get through a dress rehearsal (or is it a technical rehearsal?) that’s lasting well into the night thanks to constant interruptions by the cast. They are endlessly baffled by entrances and exits (there are seven doors and two floors), forgetful of their lines, and constantly being foiled by a plate of sardines.

As mentioned above, this cast is packed with exceptional talent that not only expertly executes the physical comedy and precise timing needed to make this show work, but they also make it look natural. And a lot of fun to watch.

Stephanie Nichols gets the comedic ball rolling as the middle-aged actress Dotty Otley plays the lovable, but frequently forgetful housekeeper Mrs. Clackett. Then there’s Stephen Blackwell as Garry Lejeune/Roger Tramplemain. He’s tall and good-looking, but easily flustered and is never quite able to finish a complete sentence. Playing his onstage love interest is Cheryl Turski as blond bombshell Brooke Ashton/Vicki; an inexperienced actress who has an interesting acting style and is always losing her contact lenses at the most inconvenient times. As Frederick Fellowes/Phillip Brent Anthony Guest constantly questions the motives behind his lines and stage directions. In addition, he doesn’t like violence or the sight of blood, which is a problem because he gets frequent nose bleeds. Jennifer Byrne plays Guest’s onstage wife as Belinda Blair/Flavia Brent. Out of the group, she seems to be the most likable and sensible. She’s often the peacemaker while doling out sentiments such as, ‘my sweet,’ ‘love,’ and ‘sweetheart’ to help smooth over ruffled feathers and bruised egos. Phil Powers takes on the role of alcoholic Selsdon Mowbray/Burglar, who has a penchant for hiding bottles all over the stage. He’s also hard of hearing and can never be found when he’s needed.

Behind the scenes of Nothing On is the underappreciated and overworked stage managers Dani Cochrane as Poppy Norton-Taylor and Cory Cunningham as Tim Allgood. Both can also usually be found on the receiving end of the wrath of caustic and egotistical director Lloyd Dallas played by Ron Williams.

Top Row, L to R: Cory Cunningham, Cheryl Turski, Ron Williams Middle Row, L to R: Phil Powers, Stephanie Nichols, Dani Cochrane Bottom Row L to R: Anthony Guest, Jennifer Byrne, and Stephen Blackwell Photo Courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

I would describe the first act as a slow burn. It’s funny, but its main purpose is to introduce the audience to the characters and their idiosyncrasies. Setting the scene if you will. The real fun starts happening in the second act, which takes place during a matinee performance of Nothing On at the Grand Theatre one month later. We’ve all heard the adage, ‘The show must go on!’ Well, that concept really gets tested in the second act to the point where you find yourself asking, ‘How far are the actors willing to go to pull it off?’ Spoiler alert: uproariously far.

Between the two acts, the set rotates from the front to the back so now the audience has a full view of what is happening backstage. This unique perspective ratches the calamity and hilarity up to tears rolling down your cheeks level. Partly because it’s comical and partly because you’re supposed to be silent when backstage, so most of the action and dialogue are pantomimed by the actors. Minor misunderstandings get blown out of proportion and personal drama spills over into the production causing everything and everyone to fall apart. Through it all, the actors try to keep the performance going but are thwarted by shenanigans which include a whiskey bottle, a fire axe, and of course, sardines.

After barely surviving their performance at the Grand Theatre, act three opens with the set rotated back to the front view. The actors are limping toward the finish line of their 10-week run. By this point, people and props are hanging tenuously by a thread. Even Belinda Blair/Flavia Brent’s optimistic veneer is starting to crack. They just must get through one last show. Spoiler alert: they don’t. It doesn’t take long before everything deteriorates. Actors get injured or go missing. Props and clothing go missing. And those still left standing are doing their best to ad-lib until the last line.

Noises Off is a show filled with mishaps, missed entrances, and miscommunications. I’ll add another ‘mis’ – missed. As in this show isn’t to be missed. It is sheer mayhem and will make you laugh like you haven’t in ages.

This performance runs just over two and a half hours with two 10-minute intermissions.

MBT has rated this show for Middle School age and up.  

Noises Offis directed by Travis W. Walter, with scenic design by Kristen Gribbin, costume design by Karen Kangas-Preston, lighting design by Eric Van Tassell, and sound design by Mike Duncan. Lynnae Lehfeldt is the dialect coach, Brittanie Nichole Sicker is the stage manager, and Lee Cleaveland is the assistant stage manager.

Tickets range from $37 to $46 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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