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A CurtainUp Review
Review of Boeing, Boeing in London by Lizzie Loveridge
At school I remember acting in one such farce, playing a milliner who dallies with someone else's bridegroom. These plays were as much fun for the cast as the audience. When in Boeing Boeing the maid Bertha (Frances de la Tour) almost corpses (Editorial note: For anyone unfamiliar with this term its Britspeak for bursting into laughter or forgetting one's lines) as she answers the phone, the audience can really enjoy a consummate professional in danger of losing it onstage.
The successful farce has a predictability, a furious pace and lots of near misses or Misses barely avoiding each other. As one exits, another enters, unaware of the first — the timing is all.
The male parts are taken by two fine classical actors — Roger Allam as Bernard, the Parisian philanderer who has studied the airline timetables in order to cox and box three lovely air hostesses, each one of whom believes she is his fiancée. Allam is all suave sophistication which turns to consternation as his deceptions start to unravel. Mark Rylance plays the country bumpkin, Robert who is in awe of his friend's success with women. The three women are ball breaking, loud, American Gloria from TWA (Tazmin Outhwaite); Italian lovely Gabriella (Daisy Beaumont) from Air Italia and the zany, outlandish hostess with Lufthansa, Gretchen (Michelle Gomez).
Frances de la Tour completes the picture as the obstinate old maid, Bertha, who has to change the sheets and the menus to fit in with each nationality. A change to airline schedules and some bad weather over the Atlantic brings some timetable clashes. Despite Robert's inept attempts to head off the actual discovery of one girl by another and his invention of unlikely alibis, Bernard is in a deep quagmire. The second half necessitates some rather improbable explanations as the cast romp around the stage and Bernard's flying chicks come home to roost.
Warchus' direction is very slick and remarkably the show doesn't feel dated which by rights it should. In many respects, this is Mark Rylance's show as his gift for comedy and comic timing, honed after his years entertaining the Pit at Shakespeare's Globe comes to the fore. I liked his attempts to get rid of the maid Bertha as she doggedly sits down and refuses to take the hint and get on with her work in the kitchen.
Rylance's character is a little funky chap with a Welsh accent and dressed from head to toe in brown tweed but rather cute for all that. Michelle Gomez' Gretchen allows this actor to show off some of the extreme moves she is famous for in Channel 4 television's Green Wing. She prostrates herself, clasps the men to her bosom as if they are in danger of being asphyxiated and launches herself into a full on comedy role. I liked too the confident American Gloria who wants Robert's opinion on her kissing technique.
Designer Rob Howell provides us with Bernard's fin de siecle mansion flat overlooking on of the Paris boulevards, an elegant circular set with enough doors for exits and entrances and with a centre chandelier with coloured shades in each of the girl's airline colour. He also has dressed the air hostesses in sexy uniforms, shortest of skirts, highest of heels and with their hair up tucked under those jaunty hats. Claire van Kempen's music is mostly tunes of the 1960s with lyrics in French and just perfect. The show closes with a dancing romp, a modern version of the ones we loved at Rylance's Globe.
As I have said, it is a very professional revival of what is really a simple comedy. As I watched it, I wondered if the sex roles could be reversed with women cast as the philandering deceivers. Is Boeing Boeing ultimately anything other than a bowl of frothy ice cream? No, but many will find it delicious.
BOEING BOEING in London featured Roger Allam, Mark Rylance, Tamzin Outhwaite, Michelle Gomez, Frances de la Tour, Daisy Beaumont and was reviewd on 16th February 2007 performance at the Comedy Theatre, Panton Street, London SW1
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