This review of Boeing Boeing, written by Richard Henderson, first appeared in Offbeat News, our bi-monthly newsletter.
The set that greeted us as we took our seats was cool and simple, almost all doors, with a contrasted warm rectangular opening at the centre which in turn led to the invisible front door and kitchen. In the outer hallway, a white flower arrangement placed centrally, the only thing which stayed cool and unmoved throughout the ensuing events. On stage, just a sofa and drinks table. A practical and pleasing answer from Chris Janes to the question, ‘How on earth are they going to fit the comings and goings of a typical farce onto the compact stage at CoPs?’
Next, the plot. There isn’t one; just a situation that slowly disintegrates before our eyes, the flawless scheme that isn’t quite. Act one opens with statuesque blonde Gloria (Claire Costello) leaving the love nest she shares with polished Parisian bachelor Bernard (Paul Russell), smartly turned out as an air hostess off on her next long distance flight. She encounters Robert (Russell Vincent) on the doorstep as she goes. He explains he is an old friend of Bernard from college days who hopes he might have a night’s lodging while he looks for something permanent on his return to Paris from the remote provinces, indicated by his reacquired Welsh accent and slow rural reactions.
All this is further skewed by the unexpectedly early arrival of a second air hostess, Gabriella (Hanna Gilbert): dark, petite, clearly from Al Italia, whose schedules have been changed owing to the introduction of jumbo jets. As a third hostess is to descend unexpectedly from the sky at any moment, Bernard has to enlist Robert’s bemused assistance rapidly.
From this point on Bernard’s crisis management gets less and less sure, whereas Robert rapidly regains urban polish when pressed to help out. Gretchen (Sue McGill) duly arrives, all Germanic blonde exuberance, and Veronique Gasseau-Dryer completes the ensemble as the grumpy mittelEuropean housekeeper complicit in all the scheming.
A farce has to move at breakneck speed to prevent the audience from actually noticing the improbabilities. It took a little while to set up this situation, probably partly the fault of the script, but as the perfection of Bernard’s domestic setup unfolded I wondered whether he was achieving a sufficiently repulsive degree of smug selfsatisfaction and pride before his fall. Real Brylcreem smooth, if it was still around in the sixties when this play is set. It seemed Robert made a more satisfactory journey from bumbler to slick operator because the journey he set himself was longer.
The all round casting for this production was excellent, with everyone looking the part and giving perfect characterisation, and as an ensemble achieving a cracking pace that cancelled all reflection on the absurdity of the non-plot. Bernard, smoothly bourgeois, losing all his suavity. Robert, by the end able to convincingly pretend to be Gabriella’s lover in a crisis to the extent that it is he who wins the girl in the end. Those three elegant hostesses with their national characteristics and excellent accents. Scrawny Bertha with her chorus function of grumpy comments. These, and their ability to rattle along at a cracking pace as a team, gave a thoroughly entertaining evening.
Photographs by Steve Beeston.