DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Boeing Boeing – Darlington Hippodrome

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Writer: Marc Camoletti

Director: Michael Cabot

Bernard (John Dorney) is an inveterate womanizer. However, unlike the proverbial sailor who has “a girl in every port”, Bernard has several girls all flying in to the same airport: three different air stewardesses on three different schedules, on three different airlines. There is American Gloria (Isabel Della-Porta), Italian Gabriella (Nathalie Barclay) and German Gretchen (Jessica Dennis), all of whom are oblivious to the fact that their fiancé is also affianced to the other two: all thanks to careful planning around their shifts, and the help of Bernard’s long-suffering maid Bertha (Jo Castleton). This is of course a prime set up for a farce as schedules go out of the window and all three girls appear at Bernard’s apartment on the same day, and after a little trouble with taking off, Boeing Boeing manages to hit some pretty impressive heights.

Marc Comoletti’s comedy (translated from the original French by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans) is set in Paris in 1962. This location and time period somewhat excuses the questionable sexual politics and racial stereotypes that are so apparent here and which director Michael Cabot fully embraces. However, while the script’s attitudes to male/female relationships is integral to the plot (and somewhat challenged by the time of the final curtain), the stereotypical portrayal of different nationalities, while not necessarily offensive, certainly feels quaint and slightly uncomfortable today. This is mainly thanks to the way that the three girls deliver strong but very mannered performances to varying degrees, no doubt dictated by both the script and Cabot’s direction. Della-Porta’s Gloria is rather one-note and extremely grating (although she is American after all) and Dennis’ Gretchen is ridiculously melodramatic. Barclay’s Gabriella, while still over the top, is the most sincere and hence successful performance of the three.  This caricaturing is obviously a choice, but not a particularly successful one, especially early in the play when the plot is being set up and everything should be relatively calm prior to the insanity of the main farce kicking in later. In early scenes it often feels like some performances have wandered in from an entirely different production.

The other half of the cast handles the growing hysteria much more successfully as they attempt to keep the three women apart. Dorney’s Bernard begins as a laid back and blasé playboy and it is a genuine joy to watch him slowly unravel into a gibbering mess as his lies all come home to roost. Castleton brings a wonderfully acerbic wit to Bertha and her deadpan delivery is a great contrast to the madness going on around her. However, the standout in cast is easily Paul Sandys as Bernard’s visiting friend Robert. This role is the typical central character in a farce: an uptight innocent who is thrust into the middle of the action and who must desperately try and hold everything together by spinning increasingly outrageous lies. Sandys’ hilarious performance is note perfect and is reminiscent of a young David Jason. When he is on stage, you are not watching anyone else.

The play itself takes a little too long to get going. The first half is all set-up and the jokes are weak, making it a bit of a slog. However, as the farcical elements get introduced, things improve greatly and although this isn’t exactly Charlie’s Aunt, Noises Off or even No Sex Please We’re British, it still delivers big laughs once the doors start slamming and the men start stammering and sweating.

Like so many of the flights that are talked about in this play, Boeing Boeing is a pleasant enough destination; it just takes a little too long to get there.

Runs until 30th July 2022.

The Reviews Hub Score

Somewhat Lacking Lacking

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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