Creating a magic circle that is the stage
The premise of Noises Off is simple — it’s a play within a play.
And that’s perhaps the only thing about it that is simple, as the script takes the audience backstage, off-stage, up-stage, down-stage, through many doors and on stage — all of which makes the set design key.
That’s where Ross Nichol comes in.
Nichol, who has done 18 shows with Western Canada Theatre in the last three decades, is creating the set for the play, which opens on Feb. 23 and continues to March 3.
“Usually, you read the script and talk to the director,” Nichol said, “and they create a world you want it to take place in.
“Not with this one. You’re really working backwards and it’s heavily prescribed by the script.”
In fact, something as apparently simple as having doors for the actors to go through is essential to the play — and have to be created so that the detective work the audience will be engaged in while watching it makes sense.
“Yesterday, I discovered two doors that two actors have to go through at the same time weren’t working,” Nichol said.
“Not to give any of the plot away, but the two actors are tied together but the audience doesn’t see it right away. I had to remove a wall for them to go through the doors and have it work.
“It’s the first time I’ve pulled a piece of scenery to accommodate a script.”
If that sounds somewhat confusing, it’s the result of the play, a typical British farce that truly does revolve around doors, the interactions of the actors who are playing the actors when they aren’t on stage.
Perhaps this might help: Noises Off includes a love triangle, an actor who stutters, a novice actress who may also be a porn star, an elderly alcoholic who has hidden bottles throughout the stage and an overworked stage manager.
“It’s a tough script to read but it’s funny as heck,” Nichol said.
And it all requires a two-storey set that has to revolve to take the real audience from out front to backstage.
Adding to the complications, the set must also fit the much smaller Chemainus Theatre stage, where the play is headed after its run in Kamloops.
Nichol said the easiest way to accommodate that was for him to design the set for Chemainus and have it built there, then bring it up to Kamloops for installation at Sagebrush Theatre.
Although he’s worked on films as well, Nichol said he finds himself always coming back to the theatre — and WCT in particular.
That could be simply because, if he wants to, Nichol can pick up a paintbrush or a hammer and get involved with the actual construction of the set, something that is strictly regulated in the movie industry.
“For example, I’m going to do some painting tonight,” he said.
“In the theatre, I can touch all the parts of what I’ve designed.”
The theatre wasn’t Nichol’s first choice for a career.
He had planned to study broadcasting but, for a variety of reasons, ended up at the University of Victoria studying theatre arts with a goal of breaking into the television business.
“I’m really lucky to have a career like this,” he said.
It’s all about teamwork, Nichol said, something that people can understand when it comes to sports, but don’t always consider when contemplating the theatre.
“This is a job where you have to go to work with a group of people and you’ve got to start solving things right away.”
Noises Off is being directed by WCT artistic director Daryl Cloran.
It stars Lindsey Angell, Christopher Wedell, Thom Marriott and Robyn Wallis, who are making their debuts with WCT, and veterans Andrew Cownden (Potiphar in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), Janet Michael (Alice in Sexy Laundry), Kirk Smith (Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady), Leon Willey (Reuben in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and Anita Wittenberg (Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol).
Tickets are available at the Kamloops Live Box Office, 1025 Lorne St., 250-374-5483, kamloopslive.ca.