Boeing Boeing

Marc Camoletti, translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring

Publicity photo

Often, with farce, suspension of belief is stretched to breaking point and beyond with the antics on stage becoming more and more ridiculous, but the French are masters of the genre, and Camoletti’s play (his first British success) ran for seven years at the Apollo in the nineteen sixties and became the most performed French play throughout the world.

“It must have something,” I thought as I approached the revival at the Comedy theatre two years ago – and it did! Under the direction of Matthew Warchus this was the slickest, quickest, and most hilarious of comedies with Mark Rylance in top form as the bewildered country cousin and Roger Allam the perfect foil – a sophisticated man of the world managing to keep three fiancées in the air at once.

‘In the air’ literally as they are all flight attendants and from his exquisite, stylish Parisian penthouse (beautifully elegant circular set by Rob Howell) Bernard runs his life with the aid of timetables to make sure they never meet. There is always one in, one out and one on the way – a system which was bound to run into trouble and with the advent of the new high speed Boeings of course it does, and life speeds up to match.

This touring version lives up to expectations, with the same director keeping the action frantically fast-paced, and timing is so perfect that the comings and goings through all the respective doors seem (almost) perfectly rational, with none of the hostesses catching sight of each other until – well it had to happen!

Each from a different country, the hostesses are presented as almost caricatures of their national characteristics, with American Gloria (Sarah Jayne Dunn) shrill and assertive, Italian Gabriella (Thaila Zucchi) excitedly volatile, and German Gretchen (Josephine Butler) given to barking out orders and expecting to be obeyed, while the figure hugging uniforms with mini skirts and very high heels increase the glamorous sexy image – a male fantasy, especially when they indulge in passionate kissing, sometimes with the wrong man.

Throughout all the confusion Susie Blake’s pessimistic housekeeper, Bertha, grumbles and complains as she slouches her way from place to place, still muttering resentfully as she comes and goes, and who can blame her as she tries to protect her employer’s secrets from discovery while having to prepare suitably appropriate meals at short notice. She has some of the funniest lines, made even more hilarious by the dead-pan, gloomy interpretation.

John Marquez is a gloriously expressive cousin Robert, at first aghast at Bernard’s casual attitude to the hazards of his subterfuge, but becoming increasingly excited by the possibilities and then frantically and uproariously inventive while trying to keep the fiancées apart.

Martin Marquez as Bernard thinks he is running a carefree bachelor life with no strings, but it is the women who have the last laugh, with even Bertha getting what she considers her just desserts.

All good comedies end on a high note and this show is no exception with the curtain call - choreographed this time by Kathleen Marshall – a wild and joyous boogie that had the audience happily clapping along, with a special cheer for excellent comedienne Susie Blake, now sporting a pink feather boa.

Touring to Milton Keynes, Brighton and Birmingham

Philip Seager reviewed this proiduction at Sheffield

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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