Andrew put up considerable resistance to seeing the revival of Mark Camoletti and Beverley Cross’ sixties farce Boeing Boeing at the Pinter (nee Comedy) Theatre. But ultimately resistance was futile. Phil plied Andrew with merlot until he finally relented, although the next morning he had no recollection of this alleged acquiescence. Too late – the tickets were booked and the trap had slammed shut.
Let us examine for a moment why Phil was so determined to see this farce: first, he was seduced by the derivative, Catch me if you can-style retro artwork on the production’s website; second the cast included a lot of people off the telly.
Despite Phil’s enthusiasm, it was with tongues firmly in cheeks (their own, not each others) that the Whingers took off for the theatre expecting a very long haul indeed.
Aware that the plot concerns an affluent French architect, Bernard Roger Allam juggling his love life with three air-stewardesses, they wondered if director Matthew Warchus could possibly squeeze any humour out of this once record-breaking – but now surely hopelessly politically incorrect – farce?
The stewardesses, while disappointingly lacking sixties big hair are so confident in their roles that the packed audience roared with approval. Tamzin Outhwaite (EastEnders), Daisy Beaumont and Michelle Gomez (Green Wing; pictured right) are a delight, playing up national American, Italian, and German stereotypes respectively.
Gomez’s performance is a comic triumph and despite the slips in her accent and her grotesque (but very funny) Germanic stereotyping it’s impossible not to love her. She stalks the retro set like a gazelle, disdainfully eyeing the goings on under two-inch lashes. Not only is she hilarious, but she has the biggest hair.
Surprisingly it’s Frances de la Tour as Bernard’s maid Bertha who seems least at ease with the material despite some nicely underplayed moments and a fine line in comedy dusting.
But the evening belongs to Mark Rylance who – we must now conclude – was wasting his talent during his 10 years as artistic director at The Globe. His performance as Bernard’s friend Robert is a comic tour de farce. Unlike the sophisticated playboy Parisian Bernard, Robert is a simple businessman from the provinces and Rylance portrays this through the employment of a Welsh accent. We don’t want to blunder into Anne Robinson territory, but it’s very effective. Rylance shows himself to be a first class vocal and visual comic whose understated delivery gives real texture to the evening.
We’re still a bit bemused as to why this evening works and feeling a bit guilty about enjoying it. With its hopelessly sexist premise and national stereotyping, it really shouldn’t work at all today. It helps that all three stewardesses are portrayed strongly and that the men are portrayed quite weakly. That the performances are so assured helps – and that the pacing is fast enough to paper over the creaks and cracks.
Even the set is a delight – a white panelled semi-circle with the requisite multiple farce doors, more elegant than kitsch, more retro than hetero. Three sixties hanging lights reflect the colours of the stewardesses outfits. Phil eyed the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs enviously.
Director Warchus will be moving on from this to direct the musical of The Lord of the Rings at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and Phil is even contemplating booking for that. Now that is worrying.
WEW thought they’d be rushing for the emergency exits. Instead they smell a big comedy hit and predict it won’t be a case of “Boeing Boeing Gone” (Phil’s pun) for a very long time.