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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Boeing Boeing
Comedy Theatre      2007-2008

This farce from the 1960s is a naughty delight, and if its revival means that the armies of Political Correctness are in retreat, that is all the more reason to celebrate.

Well into the 1980s every London season had one or two of these essentially innocent sex farces, all with variants on a basic formula - the hero had to keep two people who must never meet from ever meeting.

They might be his wife and mistress, or two girlfriends, or his accidentally undressed secretary and his prudish boss - you get the idea.

The attempts to keep them apart would get more frantic, and new lies and cover stories had to be invented to deal with the complications of the last set of lies and cover stories.

Some poor innocent friend of the hero would be dragged in to bear the brunt of the plotting. Things would spin ever rapidly almost out of control until some ironic but satisfying ending.

If you were lucky, the show would star Leslie Phillips or Donald Sinden, and the poor schnook of a friend would be Ray Cooney or Michael Williams.

In this 1962 French comedy by Marc Camoletti, Englished by Beverley Cross, the hero is a Paris playboy whose three girlfriends are all air hostesses.

As he explains to his friend, as long as two of them are in the air at any given moment, his is the perfect life.

But, inevitably, one girl takes a day off, one flight gets delayed, and another arrives early, and soon the two men are frantically trying to get one girl out one of the seven doors to the stage before another enters, the mounting hysteria watched over by the obligatory wise-cracking housekeeper.

(Good rule of thumb: the more doors in the set of a farce, the better.)

And it is very, very funny.

Yes, the men are swine, but they get what they deserve. Yes, the women are all sex objects, in the kind of faux-Chanel air hostess uniforms that emphasise legs that go on forever. But this is not a comedy of sex, but of panic.

At the interval, a woman friend grumbled half-heartedly about the sexism until I pointed out that the only unhappy characters on that stage were the men.

And, not knowing the ending, I predicted - quite rightly, as it turned out - that the women would come out on top.

Roger Allam is not a natural comedian, and he captures the hero's suaveness and happy complacency as the play begins more successfully than his later desperation.

The show is stolen (as it almost always is in this genre) by the hapless friend, played to perfection by Mark Rylance, who has learned to use the wimpish quality that kept him from ever being a fully successful leading man.

In Rylance's hands, the buddy seems at first a total loser compared to Allam's playboy. But as he taps into a hitherto unsuspected talent for lying and bluffing, and discovers to his surprise that his awkwardness is strangely attractive to women, Rylance lets us share his mix of panic, wonder and delight.

And those moments that Rylance doesn't dominate are stolen with professional ease by Frances de la Tour as the housekeeper who disapproves of everything as a matter of principle.

A lot of the comedy is in the writing, but it is de la Tour who knows exactly how dryly to speak her lines and how long to hold a silence before reacting or delivering a zinger.

The three girlfriends are stereotypes, but the actresses have fun with them- Tamzin Outhwaite's bouncy cheerleader American, Daisy Beaumont's kittenish Italian, and especially Michelle Gomez's sexy German with more than a touch of the storm trooper about her, never more frightening than when growling 'I love you.'

Matthew Warchus directs with a perfect understanding of the cartoon quality of plot and characters, and of the almost-spinning-out-of-control pacing.

Boeing Boeing sets stage comedy back forty years. Hurrah!

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Boeing boeing - Comedy Theatre 2007
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