Noises Off: Designer Statements

Posted on: January 12th, 2016 by Roundabout

Derek McLane - Set Design

The very first thing I thought when I finished Noises Off is that this is one of the funniest plays I’ve ever read. But the other thing I felt, almost at the same time, was a sense of anxiety about figuring out what the hell to do with all those doors. There are so many doors and they’re so specific in the play that the designer side in me started to wonder how I was ever going to figure it all out.

Another thing I had to consider, from the design point of view, is the perception of reality for the set of the play-within-the-play, which is entitled Nothing On. It would be very easy to do it as something that’s really, truly terrible. But it’s important that the stakes be high enough that we believe this group of actors performing in Nothing On have a lot invested in it. They can’t be such hacks that you’re not concerned for them.

There are a couple of layers to the set. It’s described as a Tudor type home in the country that the owners don’t really live in and, of course, it’s also a set for a sex farce performed by a company that’s not comprised of the highest caliber professionals. When you sit down with pencil and paper and lay out the doors, the stairs and the balcony, the way that they need to be in order for the plot of the comedy to work, it doesn’t make any sense architecturally as a house. The front door is straddled by a bathroom and the study.

Normally, if I’m designing a play set in a realistic house, I usually imagine the rest of the ground plan, the part that’s not seen.  But it’s really tough to come up with a logical version for this show. If you were to draw the ground plan of this house, you would look completely nuts.



Michael Krass - Costume Design

Noises Off is a great modern classic of farce. Mercifully, I had never seen nor read it when I was asked to design costumes for it -- so my first exposure to the play was reading the script. And that was torture because there are so many stage directions, descriptions of bits and physical humor suggested that it was hard to sort through it all to find the people. Finding out who the people are in the play I am designing is my job. It took some disciplined rereading to discover the humans in this production which features a play-within-a-play.

When Jeremy, the director, and I spoke, he thought it important to set the play in the time it was first presented, the late 1970s, so I began reminding myself what that time was like. I looked at magazine images of British actors, British theatre and television productions, the icons of fashion and leadership, the queen, real people and haircuts.

I also had to understand that the play-within-the-play was designed by a 1978 costume designer with perhaps limited resources. So I got to thinking about what “she” thought about, how she saw her world, how desperate she was in putting together the production, how she got along with her actors and how she spent her budget. Then logistics entered my thinking. This is about a play that’s touring over the course of several months. What happens to costumes on the road? Bad dry cleaning? What happens with actors who dislike their costume? Who doesn’t want to wear their wig? Who has worn holes in their pants? How do we tell that story? It’s all a delicious assignment for me -- when you add in rehearsals, collaboration with smart and funny actors and a great director – I’m in heaven.

NOISES OFF costume research

NOISES OFF costume research

Jane Cox - Lighting Design

Anyone who has ever been involved in theatre will find something familiar in Noises Off -- whether it’s the big personalities, the backstage politics, or the tense nerves of a final dress rehearsal.

As a lighting designer, you are always coming into the room at the most stressful moment for the actors and the director -- the moment when the play finally takes the physical stage, which is often the moment when everyone’s psychological cracks appear. For lighting designers, it’s also a workplace parody and a very cathartic opportunity to bring this energy in front of a curtain. The play-within-a-play idea is both the challenge and the great pleasure of working on Noises Off.

As a lighting designer, I really have to think about it as if I am lighting two separate shows, all on one light plot. We are not only lighting a comedy here at the Roundabout, but we are also convincingly lighting an English farce, all in the same amount of physical space (which is a huge challenge for the technical and production staff as well). The farce has to be well executed enough that we can be optimistic about it, so that the stakes are high. We have to believe that this play-within-a -play can succeed, so that when it really falls apart it is tragic (in order to be extremely funny).

So for the designers, we have to exercise our craft well and badly at the same time. We have to pretend we’re trying really hard and failing. The whole thing feels like a lovely opportunity to poke fun at ourselves, but it’s also a love letter to the theatre, of course. Despite mounting desperation and distraction, the show must go on. I can’t wait to get into the theatre with it!


Megan Hilty, Daniel Davis, Kate Jennings Grant, Jeremy Shamos, David Furr and Andrea Martin in NOISES OFF.

Todd Almond - Composer

Noises Off is just one of those plays. You know? It sits around in your subconscious and keeps you entertained for (I'm hoping) a lifetime. I quote it constantly and feel like it is my personal friend with whom I have a living history. To be clear, I've never worked on this play before, until now -- I will be writing original music for Roundabout's production. One doesn't think of music, however, when one thinks of Noises Off -- it's all slamming doors and dialogue. And that is where my exciting challenge lies; there are indeed music cues, and I'm approaching my assignment in the way a comedian approaches physical humor -- it needs to feel effortless and precise while being at the same time big and, well, funny! My love of these characters will guide me; I really do think of them as friends.


Christopher Cronin - Sound Design

I happen to love this play. I was involved in another high profile production, some number of years ago, and it remains a very fond memory. When Jeremy asked me to be involved, I thought long and hard if that would work as an asset, or an obstacle. I started the conversation by asking him if he were taking this production in any sort of “direction?” His answer was “classic.” As a generic rule, Sound Design for farce is more about support than statement. The playwright has crafted a load of mechanical parts: doors, split second timing, and outlandish situations (sardines anyone?) that make the play go. All the sound design needs to do is grease up the gears.

But that said - it’s hard to forget that the title of the play refers to sound in the play - two plays really. Nothing On needs to show off the feel of a creaky, generic pastoral countryside soundtrack, that was probably provided by Tim himself. Then, the backstage, workplace, neurosis driven world of Noises Off needs to bounce along on the back of the play within.

There are some tricky technical requirements – voice-overs, text acted upstage, away from the audience, phones ringing, doors slamming. But there are also some fun opportunities to tie sound elements to the relative stress level of these characters. The phone ring tempo may alter slightly to fit Dottie’s increasingly frantic journey from Act 1 to Act 3. Freddie’s many pratfalls down the stairs require an increasing amount of audible injury. Add a dash of some bouncy, fun ‘70s sitcom theme music.   Classic, I thought – let’s leave it to the estate agents - Squire, Squire, Hackham, and Dudley. I can’t wait.

Noises Off plays through March 6, 2016  at the American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and more information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, Noises Off

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