It is only hours before the opening of a British adult farce, Nothing On, and the touring company is hurriedly running through a final dress rehearsal in the Grand Theatre, Weston-SuperMare, before the first audience arrives.
During the first act, we are an audience to this production of a play within a play. The Nothing On cast is loveable, but mainly inept; however, we cheer for them under our breath and hope that they can pull it together and get the show on the road.
Dotty, the actor playing Mrs. Clackett, can’t remember her entrances and exits. Garry, the male love interest, can’t remember his lines. And Brooke, playing Vicki, the female lead, is constantly posing and primping, without any understanding of what the play is about or what she is doing. Trying to pull this all together into some semblance of a presentable show is the director, Lloyd Dallas, who is sitting in the darkened auditorium shouting out directions and trying to get everybody ready for opening.
Act 2, however, dashes all our hopes.
For this act, we, the audience, are sitting backstage; the entire set has been turned 180 degrees. We can hear the actors performing out front, but what we see is the back side of the scenery flats, the stage manager trying to keep the action flowing and everybody happy, and the various antics of the actors offstage between their exits and entrances.
The play has been on the road for one month now, and relationships between cast members, as well as the quality of Nothing On have deteriorated. Garry and Dotty are in the middle of an unhappy love affair.
Poppy, the assistant stage manager is pregnant; and Selsdon Mowbray, an actor in his late sixties, is trying to stay sober between scenes. Add to this, a visit by director Lloyd, who is there first of all to comfort his “overly excited” lover, Brooke, and second to try and save his play from total disaster.
Most of the company is in a continual state of agitation, and this disorder is carrying over into the play, causing missed entrances, flubbed lines, and general hilarity.
Act 3 is even more frenetic.
It is a month later again, and the tour is reaching an end. We, the audience, are out front again, watching a performance of Nothing On that has reached the point of complete and hilarious deterioration. The business of performing the show has become subordinate to the business of solving personal problems.
Dotty refuses to come out of her dressing room. Garry is now drinking Selsdon’s whiskey. Scenery collapses, and props explode. Practical jokes have become common, and actors are now taking verbal, and sometimes physical, cracks at each other both backstage and on stage. Normal rules of logic and response don’t apply anymore.
Ultimately, however, they carry off the show—in some semblance. The unhappy band of actors manages to get to the last line, spoken by Selsdon: “When all around is strife and uncertainty, there’s nothing like . . . (takes the plate of sardines) . . . a good old-fashioned plate of curtain!”