The Comedy theatre is obviously the place for farcical comedies involving women hiding in bedrooms and inept Welshmen. Following the jolly slapstick of Donkeys’ Years, a new production of 60s farce Boeing Boeing took to the stage last night. A stellar cast of actors known as much for Shakespeare as slapstick looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves at the press night of this comedy about a Parisian man and his “international harem” of air hostesses. Caroline Bishop had a good chuckle…
Bernard (Roger Allam) is a Parisian architect who has managed to design his love life as slickly as his stylish apartment. Though a middle-aged man with crumpled trousers and unruly hair, Bernard has managed to get himself engaged to not one, but three modelesque and perfectly groomed air hostesses, who each, of course, thinks she is his one and only. In order to keep on top of things, Bernard keeps a detailed diary of all the comings and goings of his fiancées, who jet off around the world on three different airlines, enabling Bernard to ensure he only ever has one fiancée in his apartment at any one time. So far, it has all worked perfectly, and he is pretty smug about it too.
Cue inevitable disaster: Boeing has introduced a new super-speed plane, which the girls are to get transferred onto, and this, coupled with storms and flight delays, gives Bernard a whole heap of trouble when each fiancée turns up unexpectedly.
This would be funny in itself, but author Marc Camoletti’s introduction of two other characters is what makes the play. Frances de la Tour is a magnificently dour Bertha, Bernard’s maid, who begrudgingly helps Bernard maintain his love-life by altering the apartment for the stay of each fiancée and catering to their nutritional needs; while Mark Rylance’s entrance as Bernard’s old school-friend Robert provides the spark that ignites the farce.
With a prominent Welsh accent – to indicate Robert is from the backwaters of provincial Aix rather than metropolitan Paris – Rylance’s Robert is a shy, innocent and sexually inexperienced man to whom Bernard’s exploits are a child-like revelation. As Bernard gets increasingly stressed by the situation, Robert looks like he’s been given free reign of the sweetie jar as his attempts to help Bernard keep his fiancées apart help him fulfil his wish to be a “real man”. With just a well-timed pause, an inflection of his Welsh accent or a subtle facial expression, Rylance had the first night audience in stitches, while the interaction between Robert and Bertha – who end up in cahoots despite their dislike of each other – adds another strand of comedy.
The cast is completed by the trio of air hostesses. Tamzin Outhwaite is the American Gloria, who loves food and enjoys practising her kissing technique, Daisy Beaumont is a sweet, feisty Italian who can’t wait to marry Bernard, while Michelle Gomez is a scarily intense German whose passion is comically balanced by Bertha’s nonchalant demeanour.
With this cast, slick 60s designs by Rob Howell and a curtain call choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli, Matthew Warchus’s production brings style and substance to the Comedy theatre.