Friday, April 5, 2019

Review: 'The Noises' at The Old Red Lion, 4th April 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 1 Star

In retrospect, the rape scene told from the point of the view of a golden retriever was probably the low point. That's a bit of a non sequitur to begin a review with, but it's genuinely difficult to know where to begin with Jacqueline Saphra's The Noises, one of the most bafflingly ill-conceived plays I've ever seen.

The story is told entirely from the perspective of a dog, Luna (Amy McAllister). She spends almost all of the play locked inside a room while mysterious events happen in the house around her that she (and by extension us) must puzzle out. Somewhere along the way, Luna becomes aware of the presence of the audience and, uh, World War III happens. But I'll get to that in a minute.

Directed by Jacqueline's daughter Tamar, the play consists of Luna talking directly to the audience in short, chopped up monosyllabic sentences about whatever's on her mind. This could be anything from how delicious eating vomited up chicken is, what the concept of 'clean' means to a dog, her opinions of the various family members, how much she needs to take a shit and so on. During this, McAllister isn't so much miming being a dog as trying to imbue certain dog-like qualities in her performance. So, for example, when she's happy she wiggles her butt a bit.

Perhaps this might have worked as a brief dramatic sketch, maybe a twenty-minute long experiment in conveying a dog's eye view on the world. But, despite being billed at 70 minutes, The Noises actually comes in quite a bit longer than that. And trust me, you'll feel every single minute agonisingly tick by. If I hadn't been there to review the show I would have walked out - and during a quick mid-play glance across the audience I noticed that there were a couple of people who'd simply fallen asleep. Lucky bastards.

What's particularly confusing about this whole affair is reading in the programme that writer Jacqueline Saphra is a published poet, teacher and has had playwriting commissions from various notable institutions. It's a CV that simply doesn't tesselate with The Noises, which is written in the unfocused style of a group A-Level drama project.

How else to explain the sudden foray into fourth wall breaking metafiction when Luna can suddenly perceive the theatre in which she's performing and begins interrogating the audience? Did no-one think it was a problem that the actual narrative was presented through pre-recorded, difficult to hear, muffled audio? Why does Luna, hitherto presented to us as a golden retriever, put on shoes and stroll about at one point? What the actual fuck is going on with the apocalyptic World War III third act in which society begins to crumble and Luna must race through a bombed out landscape to save her mistress from... somebody? 

And then there's the aforementioned rape scene. If you're writing a rape scene of any kind you're in tricky dramatic territory and really, really need to be sure you're getting this right. And if you're writing said rape scene from the point of view of a dog? There are some things best left on the cutting room floor, especially if your play is already grossly overlong.

Amidst all this, I have a deep and abiding pity for Amy McAllister. Luna is a nightmare role that requires her to humiliate herself in front of a paying audience for the best part of the month. She is a trained, professional and no doubt skilled actor but any talents she possesses are pancaked under the mindblowingly bad script. To her credit, I don't think there's an actor on the planet that could make this work.

As the play wheezed itself through a final set of contortions I sat there miserably pondering what had become of my Thursday night. The Noises feels like a play characters in a sitcom would see to poke fun at experimental theatre. It's the kind of play that makes you seriously question the wisdom of writing about theatre if you have to spend your time digesting garbage like this. It is a bad, bad, bad play and I am baffled that it passed the quality tests of this generally excellent pub theatre.

In an ideal world, The Noises should have been subjected to a basic sanity check early in its gestation. 

"Is this a good idea for a play?" 

"No, no it is not."

The Noises is at The Old Red Lion Theatre until 20th April. Tickets here.

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