Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge – until Sat 16th July 2022
Reviewed by Steph Lott
Bernard (John Dorney) is a successful architect living in Paris who thinks he has found the secret to a happy love life. He’s a man who likes to work to schedule and he has three: one for each of his flight attendant fiancees, who all work at nearby Orly Airport for different airlines. Unfortunately, when bad luck strikes, his carefully orchestrated routine of seeing each one without the others knowing is suddenly put at risk.
Thus the scene for Marc Camoletti’s 1960 play Boeing Boeing is set. In his Director’s note in the programme for this production, Michael Cabot, Artistic Director, talks about how theatre requires audiences to suspend their disbelief, and that, as a genre, farce can stretch that suspension to its very limits. And this is the case here. Boeing Boeing is a truly classic farce. It has been revived here by the London Classic Theatre, using a translation by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans.
I found the performances of the whole cast, both individually and collectively, to be very enjoyable.
John Dorney is the polygamous Bernard, and he relies heavily on his long-suffering housekeeper Bertha (Jo Castleton) for his schedule to work and to avoid discovery. It’s delightful to watch Bernard’s rapid unravelling from smug, smooth and patronising, to manically rushing around and tearing his hair out.
Dorney’s portrayal of Bernard contrasts nicely with Paul Sandys’ repressed Robert. Arriving in town from the provinces to visit his old friend, Robert is initially shocked to hear of his friend’s lifestyle. As the hostesses’ arrivals and departures begin to unravel, Robert is hilarious as he humiliates himself with the extreme lengths he is prepared to go to protect his friend’s love life. It was the pauses and alarmed stares between them that had me chuckling the most. I was reminded here of Fawlty Towers and how Polly used to collude with Basil!
All three air hostesses gave great comic performances; the American Gloria, played by Isabel Della-Porta, brash and confident with some very firm views on what role each gender can play; the passionate and whimsical Italian Gabriella, played by Nathalie Barclay, and Gretchen the determined German, played by Jessica Dennis, all allowed us to willingly suspend our disbelief and watch to see how this situation would pan out. Things start to spin out of control; the hostesses are blithely unaware but how long until they find out and just exactly what will they do?
All of the actors above are absolutely brilliant in this fast-paced and slick production, but I think it’s Bertha, played by Jo Castleton, that steals the show. She is fabulous in this role and has spot on comic timing.
Mention must be made of the set and the costumes. Bek Palmer’s vintage costuming of the three flight attendants is a highlight, right down to the tiny details such as colour-coordinated pants to match Gretchen’s Lufthansa uniform. I was also interested to see that Bek also designed the set itself; it’s an enjoyably retro mash-up of space-age futurism; it reminded me somewhat of Space 1990!
This light and frothy French farce is a very enjoyable show to see. I will say however that the stereotypes at play here make for uncomfortable viewing at times. In his notes in the programme, Cabot does make reference to the fact that some of the attitudes in the play may be questionable and that it belongs to another time period and culture. If you can accept that and see past it, suspending your views for a while, then it’s a great piece of entertainment.