You can’t go wrong with a Michael Frayn play where everything goes wrong… As long as you’re as out-dated as Katie Jarvis, says Katie Jarvis

I first saw Michael Frayn’s Noises Off decades ago during a romantic trip to London, in those heady days when time had yet to reveal that I would go on to snore for England, and that Ian would most impress his Fitbit step-tracker by number of steps made to the bathroom during the night.

It was a weekend with highlights that included a meal at the Aberdeen Steakhouse, where waiters would catch your eye, make their way to your table; and then, as you opened your mouth to order, swerve off at the last minute to a far distant part of the restaurant. Even that was capped by Ian asking detailed directions to the Planetarium from a waxwork at Madame Tussauds.

But, yes, the ultimate highlight: Noises Off – possibly the funniest play I’d ever seen. I laughed so much I deeply unsettled other members of the audience. And, quite possibly, the cast.

So, dodgy, isn’t it: going to re-see something I loved so much.

(I mean, imagine returning to Madame Tussauds and Ian managing to distinguish a human being. It would undermine so much of the rock on which our relationship is built.)

Yet – let’s whisper it – I am dangerously excited.

And with reason.

I mean, Shakespeare blah, blah, blah. Yes, OK, Hamlet has merit. Macbeth, not bad.

But I think Frayn’s is one of the cleverest plays I’ve ever come across. Written in three acts, it begins by setting us up with the technical rehearsal of Nothing On, a farce about to enjoy a run despite its cast having a much slacker grip on their lines than director Lloyd Dallas (Simon Shepherd) (I mean, really, really played by Simon Shepherd: warning, not all credits are this uncomplicated) would ideally like. Lloyd would much rather be directing a play where people’s trousers don’t fall down. Richard III, for example.

Then here’s the really clever bit.

Act two sees us watching Nothing On from behind the scenes, as the cast – never particularly au fait with the plot – descends into bitter rivalry, petty quarrels and lovers’ tiffs.

The final act, meanwhile, is – from Nothing On’s point of view – the One Where the Plot Gets Abandoned. The audience in Stockton-on-Tees, blessed with this particular unravelling, are probably too disorientated even to consider asking for their money back.

Three versions of the same script (pretty much), with very different outcomes.

Great British Life: Michael Frayn’s Noises Off at The Everyman, CheltenhamMichael Frayn’s Noises Off at The Everyman, Cheltenham (Image: Pamela Raith Photography)So.

Did I love it?

I did. Mrs Clackett, the hapless housekeeper ever in search of where she put her sardines (played by Dotty Otley) (Mrs Clackett, not the sardines) (but really, really played by Liza Goddard) (told you) leads a cast which throws itself (often literally) into Frayn’s fun with abandon. Garry Lejeune’s (Roger Tramplemain) (actually, Dan Fredenburgh) does the best falling downstairs I’ve ever seen without an ambulance being involved. (Honestly, a great compliment.)

The whole cast – it would take me years to double-name them all; though I do love the Nothing On biogs, such as Frederick Fellows’: ‘On stage he was most recently seen in the controversial all-male version of The Trojan Women’ – is fantastic, directed by Lindsay Posner.

In the auditorium, I bump into a friend from Nailsworth, who tells me his 14-year-old granddaughter is in the audience. And, to be truthful, this sets me thinking.

I first saw this play in the salad days of Brian Rix, when trousers were meant to be worn round ankles; when multiple scenery doors led mainly to wardrobes in which to hide from jealous husbands. And maids, of course, were – without fail – French.

Does Noises Off work in 2024: in these end-days when farce is merely confined to UK government?

And when Goes Wrong does it on telly in half an hour?

Don’t get me wrong. Noises Off is theatre going wrong that taught Goes Wrong how to go wrong.

Hilarious. Utterly brilliant. And the origin story of a phenomenon.

Has it dated? Maybe. But that’s no problem for me. I have, too.

Great British Life: Michael Frayn’s Noises Off at The Everyman, CheltenhamMichael Frayn’s Noises Off at The Everyman, Cheltenham (Image: Pamela Raith Photography)