The hysterical farce, Noises Off by Michael Frayn, is preparing to spring its multitude of belly laughs on its MTC audience beginning mid month. The slightly irreverent and monumentally raucous play promises to have its audience in stitches.
Samoan born actor Ray Chong Nee plays the hot headed leading man with more than one woman waiting in the wings, and enough physical comedy to rival John Cleese’s silly walks.
“Garry is probably not even his real name, ” says Nee about his character Garry Lejeune. “But he has worked in television a lot. He might have been on Today Tonight for throwing a phone at someone in a hotel; he did win an award to violence after all. In this production, he is a leading man, but jealousy gets the best of him, as he struggles to be the consummate professional. Hilarity ensues.”
Frayn’s 1982 comedic masterpiece found its genesis in another one of his plays, The Two of Us. While Frayn was watching that particular gem from the wings, the idea came to him that it was funnier to watch from that vantage point than from the front and thus Noises Off was born.
The Tony Award nominated play has been described as the funniest play ever written. For Nee it is: “Tower of Terror meets Dracula’s on the Gold Coast meets Beverly Hills Cop meets Monty Python meets Fawlty Towers meets Kosky meets Flava Snow Show. There is much to take in, but it might also be too much for some. For those who want to take that ‘ride’ it’s euphoric.”
The conceit of the play is that it is, of course, a play within a play. Much mayhem, slap stick and general goofy behaviour follow as we observe the machinations of backstage and set. The upcoming MTC showing is coming straight off the heels of a hugely successful Brisbane season so for Nee the best part about being involved with this swash bulking ride are three elements: Learning, Loss, and Laughing.
“Every day of the rehearsal process and every show, I have the privilege of Learning from fine actors, comedians, practitioners, and humans, ” he says. “Since day one, to present day, my weight loss and overall fitness means I have dropped 2 pant sizes and I feel great physically. Lastly, there have been so many Laughs. It is so joyous to be in a production where Laughs come thick and fast (for audience and cast and crew), but to also be surprised every night with new laughter.”
Nee is a gifted actor, there is no doubt. Both his Oberon and Othello were inspired performances and highly lauded but what, as an actor, does Nee favour: comedy or drama?
“I come from a jovial and fun ethnicity, ” he says. “Comedy is in our veins. But the classic repertoire requires technique to dramatise and be dramatic. For my drive as a practitioner, they both have to be present, and each is an escape from the other. Diversification is key to any industry, and particularly for the arts in my view.”
Noises Off isn’t Shakespeare but the fast paced demands of heightened physicality poses its own set of challenges. Explains Nee: “Physically, my movements raises my heart rate over 200bpm for over 40mins, and I fall down stairs. Emotionally, it isn’t Othello, but the speed at which we all have to access pocket of emotions is rapid fire. And mentally, precision is key in this type of work. It’s like doing a three hour maths, English, science and drama exam all rolled into one.”
For mine, Frayn’s comedic jewel is a must see because, as Nee says, who doesn’t like to laugh? “Let us take you out of yourselves and not be put back together again. It’s 3 hours where the weather and Trump do not matter.”
July 8 – August 12