English Literature coursework - Noises Off
“Life is the farce that everyone has to perform” (Arthur Rimbaud). Explore your different responses to this statement with reference to the structure, form and characters of ‘Noises Off’. How far do you agree that the disintegration of the farce ‘Nothing On’ is mainly a means to comment on the human condition?
One could interpret Rimbaud’s statement as analogous to that of the insinuated, deeper reference of Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’, due to human life sharing similar elements as the convention of comedy that is farce. Life is like a drama, full of misinterpretation, unanticipated events and tragedy. This view aligns with Arthur Rimbaud’s statement; although, one could easily argue that Frayn’s meta-farce structure was in fact a device used in order to satirise the acting industry, an impeccable example of this satirisation is Lloyd’s excessive use of the word ‘love’ , this repetition could conceivably be used to exaggerate and highlight actor’s and actresses insincerity. Michael Frayn has experienced the anarchy that develops behind closed doors on an acting set, and this disputably elevates the play from a farce to an intricate, multi-layered theatrical experience. Another interpretation could be that that ‘Noises Off’ needs no deeper reading as a common definition of farce is “a ludicrous, hollow show; a mockery”.
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When examining whether ‘Noises Off’ intends to relate to the human condition, the structure of Frayn’s work can not be neglected. The meta-farce structure used by Michael Frayn is arguably integral in reflecting human nature and life, conjointly, this is most evident in Act One as ‘Nothing On’ slowly begins to disintegrate through misinterpretations and disorder. The structure of the play creates depth, therefore when disarray does arise, such as the disappearance of Selsdon in Act I, ‘Garry: Selsdon! We can’t find him!’ , proceedings have to be adjourned which also causes ‘Noises Off’ to be disrupted. This is very much comparable to life, because as one event occurs, this could lead to a detrimental effect on other affairs and it postpones future matters. On the other hand, it could comfortably be argued that Frayn does not intend to create a locus in which the reader should etch away the surface of the structure and read more thoroughly. This is apparent as ultimately ‘Noises Off’ is a farce. Had Michael Frayn intended to convey the similarities between farce and the human condition, then perhaps an essay format would have been more appropriate which means that we can only assume that his intentions were to evoke laughter from his audience.
A device that could be argued as being utilised by Frayn to portray the human condition within ‘Nothing On’ is the revolving stage. The stage allows the audience to get a full perspective of the farce without any interruptions, and it is this device that is likened to Carl Jung’s ‘persona mask’ theory. The characters within the play have to depict a certain role to the audience which masks them from their true being and it is not until the stage has revolved 180 degrees that we as the spectators are granted access to their real nature and the ‘mask’ is unveiled. Typically, this is similar to human life as people have to put on a show to impress their peers and appear in control, but ultimately when they are alone or in their comfort zone, people allow their mask to slip. This can be depicted from Arthur Rimbaud’s view by his use of the term ‘performed’ when describing life. Alternatively, it could be argued that Frayn used the revolving stage in order to convey the actor’s unprofessionalism and the complete turmoil that occurs behind closed doors on an acting set in order to create shock and laughter. Perhaps the revolving stage has no deeper meaning that relates to human condition as the proposed ‘masks’ are just traits of our character that may be rendered as false by other beings.
Characterisation is pivotal in an attempt to illustrate life’s formalities and surprises in ‘Noises Off’. In Act One, Selsdon says “Sixty years now and the smell of the theatre still haunts me”, this is in response to Poppy who nearly offends him by implying he smells. This is acutely comparable to the comedic convention of wordplay as Poppy doesn’t actually say Selsdon possesses an undesirable odour, ‘if you stand anywhere near Selsdon, you can’t help noticing this very distinctive…’ but is instead is interrupted by him before she can completely offend. This is incredibly funny as it creates awkwardness between Selsdon and Poppy. Obviously Selsdon is one of the more senior members of the cast and should theoretically be wiser from his experiences, although that is not the case. Arguably Frayn is implying that it does not matter how accomplished you may be in certain aspects of life, your lifetime will be full of consternations and revelations that can not be prepared for. Again, this adds to the validity of Rimbaud’s assessment as farce incorporates highly improbable plots situations and exaggerated characters which is similar to what human beings can perceive as life. In contrast, it could be contended that Selsdon’s dialogue has no broader meaning and is in fact just used to create an awkward situation. It could also be argued that the writer intended to stereotype Selsdon as an actor who is coming to the end of his career, is no longer concerned with his profession and is seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.
The use of complications in ‘Nothing On’, such as the actor’s troubles with the opening and shutting of doors, could be considered a key component by Frayn as a means to comment on the human condition. We see throughout almost the entirety of Act One and Act Two, the predicament that the doors cause. whilst Brooke and Garry enter through the doors on the upper stage, Belinda and Fredrick exit through the lower stage doors in perfect time and sequence. This evokes laughter from the audience as it creates confusion throughout the cast who are oblivious to each other’s presence, and ultimately this excites the audience as it eludes to the progression of a ‘riotous event’, in typical slapstick comedy style. Furthermore, within the noumenal of ‘Noises Off’ it depicts the doors as a gateway backstage which allows the audience to see the true nature of the actors and additionally utilised by Frayn as a vehicle for satire. While one can’t argue against the fact that Frayn intended the play to be a riotous event, the potential for deeper reading when examining the doors can not be ignored. It is possible that Frayn used the doors as a device to symbolise them as a portal to another world and point of view, implying that everyone incurs implications when attempting to follow new paths in life, just as the actors have difficulties trying to open and shut the doors.
The form in which Michael Frayn presents the disintegration of ‘Nothing On’ through his use of common components of farce such as broader physical humour and the use of props suggests that his prime intention was to elicit amusement from his spectators. The use of slapstick comedy and misplacement of props in ‘Nothing On’ is especially funny as it creates uncertainty within the cast which ultimately leads to further complications and adds to the ‘riotous event’ that is to entail. A leading example of this would be Dotty’s (Mrs. Clackett) ineptitude to take or replace the sardines at the correct instances ‘Mrs Clackett: What I did with the first lot of sardines I shall never know’, also we see in Act I Fredrick’s pants fall down which arouses laughter from the audience as it generates awkwardness and this is a key component of farce. By Act 3 the destruction of Act I of ‘Nothing On’ is almost complete, and the significance of this is arguably commensurate to the human condition. The disintegration of ‘Nothing On’ could have stemmed from the actor’s inability to perform the intelligible task of replacing props, and this comments on human life in the sense that misunderstanding can lead to feelings of anger and jealousy during which, things escalate out of control.
In conclusion, it is apparent that Michael Frayn did indeed intend to evoke laughter from his audience through the use of typical farce components, such as the violence that occurs in Act 2 which almost leads ‘Noises Off’ into taking a more tragic narration, although whether it was unintentional, the more Michael Frayn attempts to reflect aspects of life itself through ‘Noises Off’, the more it succeeds in the intention to create humour.