"Noises Off": All set

Renowned for a complicated set, razor-sharp timing and wacky plot, Michael Frayn's comedy takes a new spin at Farkas Hall. 

By Olivia Munk '16

What has two floors, eight doors and rotates 360 degrees? If you guessed “the set of Noises Off in Farkas Hall,” you're officially a theater junkie. The show, which opens Nov. 6, sets Michael Frayn's classic British farce in modern-day America. It is famously difficult to stage for even the most sophisticated of theaters due to the technical demands of its rotating spaces (onstage, backstage, upstairs, downstairs) and fast, deliberate pacing. However, with solid planning and a lot of pre-building, director Boyd Hampton ’16, set designer Dylan Peterson ’17 and their dedicated production staff and cast were up for the challenge.

For Hampton, putting on a production of Noises Off at Harvard has been a dream for years. Hampton and Peterson, who co-designed the set, met with Farkas’ production staff for weeks before applying to put on the show.

The cast of "Noises Off"“Coming at it this time after working on more shows, I understand, oh yeah, this is really huge,” said Hampton. The team applied for a guest professional technical director (Joe Short, Office for the Arts dance and theater production technician) and master carpenter (graduate Madie Hays ’13), and was granted the funds to move forward. 

The director and production team required that actors pledge to spend a portion of their time not only in rehearsals but in the scenic design shop as well.

“For the first two weeks or so of pre-build, every cast and staff member was expected to put in an hour-and-half of time,” said Peterson.

On one of their many long nights during tech, Peterson and the three producers for the show—Georga Stirtz ’17, Avni Nahar ’17 and Casey Durant ’18—were sitting in the house wearing clothes spattered with paint, the skeleton of their set looming large behind them. It was built primarily in the scenic shop in the basement of Farkas, and then loaded onto the stage two weeks before opening. 

“It’s been really challenging to do the show without a set. To figure out timing and entrances has been really impossible without it,” said Nahar, referring to the fact that actors in this production must run up and downstairs, time the opening and closing of doors and know when and where to use particular props—aspects of this play that are difficult to stage in any single room, let alone a rehearsal room.

“Add floors, wallpaper finishing, windows, doors – ” said Peterson, gesturing indicatively to the almost-finished set. “There’s a trick door that doesn’t open, a telephone cord that extends out of nowhere—all these random things that keep building on to the fact that it’s already a massive set.” The team emphasized that without significant building prior to load-in (when, for a typical Harvard production, the majority of the set is constructed), creating the set simply not have been feasible.

Peterson and Hampton collaborated to adapt the show’s time-period from 1970s England to modern-day America. While the original play is about British actors performing a contemporary farce, Hampton’s version has changed the allusions so a modern American company is performing a 1970’s British farce.

Peterson enjoyed designing his set to match Hampton’s transposed text. “Noises Off is generally done in an English Tudor-style home,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that.”

“The theme is ‘funkadelic,’” said Peterson with a smile. “Let’s just say ‘Wallpaperfromthe70s.com’ was a major design inspiration. And I’ve got a shag rug waiting downstairs.”

Noises Off opens at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 6 in Farkas Hall, 10-12 Holyoke Street. It runs through Sunday, November 15. Tickets are $8 for students and $12 for the general public. FMI, click here.