Theatre review: Boeing Boeing

Words by Melissa Blease
Theatre Royal Bath, 1–4 June

Farce: a comedy that seeks to entertain an audience through situations that are generally highly exaggerated, extravagant, ridiculous, absurd and improbable. Marc Camoletti: the prolific French playwright (France’s most frequently performed playwright across the globe, don’cha know) whose witty dramas generally put implausible relationship ridiculousness in the spotlight to fabulously farcical effect. Put ’em together and what have you got? Boeing Boeing, Camoletti’s enduring popular signature hit that originally hit theatrical stellar heights six decades ago, revived this year by Michael and Kathryn Cabot’s London Classic Theatre and currently touring the UK… again.

Paul Sandys as Robert, Isabel Della Porta as Gloria. Photograph © Sheila-Burnett

Urbane playboy/man-about-town Bernard has three fiancées from three different continents who work for three different airlines across three different timetables. Largely thanks to his tolerant, long-suffering maid Bertha, his three paramours remain blissfully aware of each other’s existence – so far, so very sit-com. But at the same time as Boeing’s super-fast 727 jetliner is poised to revolutionise air travel (and disrupt timetables) across the world, Bernard’s distinctly un-cosmopolitan, guileless old friend Robert makes an unscheduled landing in Bernard’s Parisian bachelor pad. Brace, brace! Bernard’s amorous air traffic control schedule is about to crash and burn. 

If John Dorney’s Bernard represents the point where Basil Fawlty meets Robin (Man About the House – remember that?) Tripp, Paul Sandys’ Robert is David Brent played by Mr Bean… and if either of them hope to be labelled ‘louche’, subtle “men are ultimately fools” references woven into an erstwhile misogynistic set-up make sure that’s never gonna happen.

Meanwhile, Isabel Della-Porter as American air stewardess Gloria shrieks, whoops and hollers in all the right places, Nathalie Barclay puts plenty of vivacious, Italian-stylee va-va-voom into her role as Gabriella and Jessica Dennis’s Gretchen is as stereotypically comedy-‘Germanic’ is it gets; when she barks an order, few could fail to obey. But it’s Jo Castleton’s not-quite-as-downtrodden-as-she-seems maid Bertha who subtly carries the whole charade along, offering a masterclass in droll comedy timing throughout.

When all is said and done (and there’s a lot to be said and done in and around Bernard’s tricky love life), Boeing Boeing is, above all, a vintage-retro timepiece, its status in the canon of classic 20th-century comedy theatre further bolstered in this intelligently slick revival courtesy of Bek Palmer’s exquisitely stylish circular set evoking all manner of hip 1960s lifestyle aspirations and forming the perfect backdrop for the cast to flaunt Palmer’s equally evocative costumes, kinky boots et al. 

If you missed Boeing Boeing landing in Bath this time around, LCT are touring the production across the UK until the end of July 2022.

Boeing Boeing – Jessica Dennis as Gretchen, Paul Sandys as Robert. Photograph © Sheila Burnett

Main image: Boeing Boeing with Paul Sandys as Robert, John Dorney as Bernard, Nathalie Barclay as Gabriella. Photograpb © Sheila-Burnett