Writer: Marc Camoletti
Director: Jonathan Humphreys
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
The farce Boeing-Boeing is the most often performed French play, according to the Guinness Book of Records. First produced in 1960 in Paris, it had its West End premiere two years later and went on to have a seven year run in London. Despite this and several other notable successes, playwright Marc Camoletti is perhaps not as well known as other writers of comedy for the stage.
Set in Paris, the farce centres around Bernard (played by Christian McKay), who is engaged to three air hostesses of three different nationalities (American, Italian and German) working for three different airlines (TWA, Alitalia and Lufthansa). As his fiancées come and go at different times because of their timetables, Bernard is able to accommodate all three of them, assisted by his housekeeper Bertha (Julia Deakin).
The set consists of two huge sections forming the floor and wall of Bernard’s apartment, eye-catchingly coloured in groovy 1960’s orange. Five equally spaced white doors on the wall lead to unseen bedrooms and bathroom, individually defined by pools of coloured light within. The floor area has circular green rugs and green leather furniture, among other items. A large silver arc floor lamp echoes the circular theme. Costumes for the stewardesses are mainly their uniforms. Gloria (Kelly Price) wears red, Gabriella (Natalie Thomas) blue and Gretchen (Lizzie Winkler) yellow. Bernard sports a natty suit, while his friend Robert (Joseph Kloska) wears ill-fitting clothes, representing his more countrified Aix background. Bertha’s domestic clothing is embellished with socks.
While the basic premise of the play is a promising one for farce, the script is enhanced by larger-than-life acting, where strong direction is very apparent. Jonathan Humphreys has his actors move about the large stage frequently, so the action is never static. In fact, there is rarely a quiet nor a still moment. When we do get such a moment, as when Bertha and Robert are sitting enjoying a drink after a period of frantic activity, the simple sound of the telephone ringing is enough to elicit a laugh, as it heralds the possibility of another comic complication.
Julia Deakin gives perhaps the most down-to-earth characterisation as the maid coping with the strain of Bernard’s lifestyle. Ironically, her quiet, grumpy performance – which is in contrast to the animated style of the others – gets many of the bigger laughs. Joseph Kloska, as the friend who arrives on the scene and seems to take to the strange arrangement with ease, is perhaps the actor who works hardest in the performance, being called upon to transform rapidly from shy to sly. Christian McKay is a slick Bernard, who hardly has a hair out of place until his intricate lifestyle begins to unravel. The three stewardesses are all shamelessly stereotyped, from heavy accents to the food they insist upon eating, but this is obviously integral to the play.
Boeing-Boeingis a colourful, fun and entertaining farce and not to be taken too seriously, since many of the attitudes of the characters are frowned upon today and the depiction of foreigners is hardly PC. Disappointingly, the script does not always take full advantage of the situations it sets up. An accidental meeting between two of the three stewardesses is hardly the charged encounter the two men have been implicitly fearing. Camoletti doesn’t engineer a meeting between all three women, which might have delivered even more comic punch. Also, for all his unfaithful misdeeds, Bernard gets off very lightly. Convenient love matches of the unbelievable type set this hitherto Lothario on a path of blissful monogamy. This is not quite a Swiss watch of a farce, but it certainly ticks along nicely.
Runs until 7th June.