Boeing Boeing by London Classic Theatre
Oh I do love a stage with lots of doors. You just know what’s in store and your stomach prepares for belly laughs.
As we arrive at the theatre, my plus one for the evening asks “what’s this play about?”
“A plane I think,” I respond. At which point my friend looked at me that expression that only said “well duh!”
Surprisingly, this play is not about a Boeing plane. We’ll knock me down with a feather!
Bernard (John Dorney) is something of a player; engaged to three beautiful air hostesses, Gloria (Isabel Della-Porta), Gabriella (Nathalie Barclay) and Gretchen (Jessica Dennis) he is loving life…that is until, in true farce style, it all goes very wrong. The arrival of old friend Robert (Paul Sandy), the weather, a new, faster plane and a delay means that all three beaus are in the apartment AT THE SAME TIME, along with Bernard’s long-suffering maid Bertha (Jo Castleton). You can see why so many doors are needed in the set!
John Dorney is wonderful as the charming, confident polygamist Bernard. Beginning as somewhat of your typical British cad, he becomes more and more manic as the play progresses (and more doors are in use). I must admit to jumping a few times at his unexpected hysterical yells. By the end of the production Dorney must be absolutely exhausted given the energy he exerts.
As the only other male in the cast, Sandy’ Robert is the perfect antidote to Dorney’s Bernard. A one-woman kind of guy, Robert is just looking for love…and a place to stay. When the carefully constructed timetable of hostess arrivals and departures inevitably starts to unravel, Robert is just hilarious, humiliating himself and going to extreme lengths to protect his friends “love” life. Again, Sandy gives a very physical and over dramatic performance that is perfectly suited to the genre. Just watch his facial expressions – they are always on point. I also love his use of stillness juxtaposing the chaos on the stage.
The first of Bernard’s “international hareem” on the stage is Gloria, the brash and confident American with some very firm views on gender roles. Gloria is not a likeable character – she is just too loud, too forceful and too bouncy. She is clearly disliked by the disgruntled Bertha, which forces us to side with Bertha – a very clever ploy as we never stop enjoying Bertha’s commentary and opinion through the rest of the play. Della Porta plays the role with energy and enthusiasm.
The second fiancé, Gabriella, is another cultural stereotype. Playing the more whimsical and sexy Italian Air Hostess, Barclay plays a nuanced character with real depth of feeling. Her frustration shines through, as does her passion.
The final fiancé, Gretchen, is a more one dimensional, determined and domineering German character. While she professes love, Barclay’s over-dramatic speech and body language makes it clear that the words don’t reflect her true feelings. Barclay’s melodrama brings many laughs from the audience – especially as we warm to her character and understand her insecurities.
All of the actors above are absolutely at the top of their game in this production, but my favourite character has to be Bertha. As an “outsider” to the action, she is able to offer such witty one liners that I find myself laughing when she enters the stage, just in anticipation of the lines she will deliver. Her northern accent adds to the bluntness of the lines as do her sarcastic facial expressions and bustle. She is just so droll. Castleton is fabulous in this role and has spot on comic timing.
The staging by Bek Palmer is small and simple; it almost looks as though it’s been helicoptered in and dropped onto the spacious Derby Theatre stage. Because of the black space around the set, you can just imagine sitting in front of the 1960s television on a Saturday night watching this frolicking farce play out. With no set changes, there is nothing to disrupt the action (apart from the slamming of doors). The globular shape of the stage is well designed to represent the globe-trotting of the air hostesses. How did Bernard think they would never meet? Of course, this is what makes a good farce – the suspension of reality – it could happen and this is what makes it so deliciously entertaining.
My only slight criticism is pacing at the beginning of the second Act. Act 1 leads up to mayhem as the interval arrives and the audience are full of anticipation for Act 2 to start with a bang… but it’s almost as if the audience is taken back to the relative calm of the beginning of the play as we build back up to pandemonium. Of course, we can’t have turmoil and madness throughout (imagine how hyper stimulating that would be), but for me, the momentum is somewhat, temporarily lost. However, it is quickly regained – much to my relief.
Written by Marc Camoletti and translated by Beverley Cross, Boeing Boeing was first performed in London in 1962. And yet to me, it feels like a new play which may explain why the Derby Theatre audience is relatively small. I feel that perhaps this play does not get the credit or the audience that it deserves. If any group can bring this play into the spotlight, it’s London Classic Theatre. The whole ensemble cast just bring it to life though their precision, energy and vim – although I’m sure my stomach muscles won’t thank them tomorrow; all of the chortling, chuckling and guffawing meant that they have to work very hard tonight.
Boeing Boeing is a fantastically funny ride. Expect calm and expect turbulence, but of course, it will be a smooth landing. All passengers should please proceed to Gate Derby Theatre immediately with your tickets. The gate will close on Saturday 25 June.