James Saunders plays Tim Allgood in Noises Off and the Company and Stage Manager in Nothing On.
What makes Noises Off such an iconic play?
I don’t think a play can survive for this long, and be performed all around the world continually, unless its very VERY good. There are plays that resonate with a time or a place, and I think there is a large nostalgic element to Noises Off (all of us who grew up watching Fawlty Towers, Blackadder etc can recognise the elements that made us laugh for years). But the fact that it makes both kids and adults laugh so much must mean that it appeals to something else as well. And I think it’s just as simple as watching very flawed people put in these extreme circumstances, and watching them completely unravel over the course of an evening. The swiss-watch timing, pants falling down and very intricate plotting is so satisfying for people as well, I think. It’s a brilliant piece of writing. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a vehicle for laughter at ourselves… and I think that creates a freedom for the audience. They can really let go and surrender to pissing themselves.
What do you LOVE and what do you LOATHE about performing in a farce?
Timing, Timing Timing. Love it when its right… loathe it when it’s off. And it’s a matter of millimetres and milliseconds. And you can tell when an audience is really up for it… and riding that wave is an absolute joy. The extreme physicality is also something to be loved and loathed at the same time… I love sweating and working on stage, but not so much when I’m on the physio table the next morning… And believe me EVERYONE is on the physio table at some point!
What is your favourite line in the play (it doesn’t have to be your own)?
Dotty: ‘How about the words, Lloyd. Am I getting some of them right?
Lloyd: ‘Some of them have a very familiar ring.’
What are you most looking forward to about bringing this show to Melbourne audiences?
Well, apart from the fact that I live in Melbourne, I think Melbourne has a great appreciation for comedy. Even old-school comedy like this. Hopefully the home town laughter will be an antidote to the winter chill.
What makes Sam Strong a great director?
I think only certain directors would take this play on… its enormous. And I would imagine many would run screaming from it. You have to have a mind that can both allow something organically to happen on stage, allowing actors to bring their own comedic abilities to bear, but while having an almost computer-like brain to keep everything that this play requires in your head at the same time. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Sam has both things going on simultaneously… and that’s rare.
What do you like about performing/working on a co-production between two state theatre companies?
Um… well… as a resident of Melbourne… can I just say… ‘25 degrees in June’?!!!!!!!! Yes, I’ve loved being in Brisbane. I’ve also got to work with some actors/creatives I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to work with if it was only an MTC show. And it’s been an absolute joy. I think it’s also opening up some great avenues for artists to work in the future. I also think its been great to rehearse in Brisbane, and get to know the city well, rather than just fly in with an existing show and only see the inside of a theatre. Its been a real eye-opener.
Can you tell us three highlights from the Noises Off season so far?
1. The laughter in the first preview… after so long in the rehearsal room, you forget sometimes that this is all designed to make a bunch of strangers laugh hysterically at you! Once we heard them laughing at Lou Siverson being Dotty, the rest of us all smiled backstage!
2. The first time we heard the audience yell out the last line of the play, in unison!! It was awesome, and showed that they really were having a great time!
3. My flying cactus catch… (you’ll have to see the show to know what I mean). Sometimes its easy, sometimes its hard. And on one night it was a particularly difficult catch, requiring a dive across the stage that would have made the Australian cricket team proud. And the audience yelled their approval. Nice.
Noises Off plays at Arts Centre Melbourne from 8 July.