Farce is very, very difficult to perform.
The primary requirement of successful performance of farce is pacing. Farce must be played very, very quickly—but not too quickly.
The audience must not be given time to analyze the farce—if so, the farce falls apart—and yet farce must be played at a pace that allows the audience time to take in the necessary information.
It must be virtually impossible to find the ideal equilibrium, because I have never seen a satisfactory—let alone successful—performance of farce.
My parents say they have seen but one successful farce performance in almost forty years of theater-going: the original London production of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Bedroom Farce”, which they saw at The National Theatre in 1978, when the production was still new and fresh (and when The National Theatre building was still new and fresh). According to my parents, the first London “Bedroom Farce” was stunningly well-cast (Joan Hickson, Michael Gough, Stephen Moore and Michael Kitchen were among the eight players), stunningly well-played, and stunningly well-directed. They say that the 1978 “Bedroom Farce” was one of director Peter Hall’s greatest triumphs, fully representative of Hall’s glorious work in the 1970s, the decade in which Hall achieved his finest results. (However, the playwright has claimed, over the years, that he—and not Hall—did most of the directing for that acclaimed National Theatre production.)
My middle brother and Joshua and I made the mistake of attending a farce last night—we saw Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” at Jungle Theater—and we found it tedious to sit through the thing. When the performance had concluded, we were overjoyed at our release from the theater.
Either “Noises Off” is not a good play, or I have managed to see nothing but poor productions of the work. Last night was my third “Noises Off”, and the Jungle Theater production was the worst of my three exposures to the play. The pacing was too slow at the outset, the pacing did not pick up as it must in the second and third acts, and the actors played the material far too broadly. I don’t think we laughed once last night.
My parents saw the original Broadway production of “Noises Off”. They caught a performance in April 1984, four months into the run, and they recall that performance as “terrible”. After all these years, my parents remain puzzled that the original Broadway production of “Noises Off” managed to run for sixteen months. They say it should have closed on opening night.
We last saw “Noises Off” in November 2006, when we had attended a performance in Hamburg. The performance had been in English, using professional actors imported from London, and had been a presentation of Hamburg’s English-language theater. (Hamburg is home to over 100,000 persons whose native tongue is English; the city has maintained a professional English-language theater for decades.)
That Hamburg “Noises Off” had not been particularly good, but it was a model of farce presentation compared to what we suffered through last evening.
In the summer months, Twin Cities theater companies tend to mount comedies, mysteries and musicals. The Guthrie Theater, for instance, is offering a manufactured Cole Porter musical this summer as well as a Neil Simon comedy. We shall avoid both.
Theater In The Round recently opened a production of Ayckbourn’s “Round And Round The Garden”. It is possible we may give that production a shot, but not for a couple of weeks. The Jungle Theater “Noises Off” has soured us on comedy at present.
Otherwise, we shall ignore the local repertory companies for the remainder of the summer.