A Taste of the High Life: Classy Sixties Farce Delivers Laughter with Manicured Precision
Millard, Rosie, New Statesman (1996)
Comedy Theatre, London SW1
A good farce is always worthwhile, but a good French farce has a sort of delicious madness about it that makes it double the pleasure. Marc Camoletti's Boeing-Boeing premiered in London in 1962, and ran for thousands of performances. This is a thundering revival, directed by Matthew Warchus, with a cast normally reserved for "serious" theatre.
From the minute that Bernard (Roger Allam) starts leafing through his diary and mumbling, "Good, good, good," a delicious warmth spreads over the audience, as we know full well that things aren't going to be good, at all. Bernard is a Parisian architect with a flash apartment near Orly Airport and a habit of getting engaged. He has more than one fiancee-three, in fact. As he sees it, this is the ideal number. Two would be boring, and four would be too complicated. His fiancees are all air hostesses, which is perfect for Bernard. No sooner does one take off from Orly than another lands. When she leaves, the third arrives for a few hours, because she is in transit. All Bernard needs to succeed, he boasts, is an in-depth understanding of the international air timetable.
Bernard's "international harem" comprises Gloria, a blonde trolley dolly from TWA (Tamzin Outhwaite); Gabriella, a raven-haired babe from Alitalia (Daisy Beaumont); and Gretchen, a muscular and terrifying brunette from Lufthansa (Michelle Gomez). All three girls are gorgeous, with sexy little Sixties air-hostess outfits, endless legs and cute little hats which match their suits, which match their in-flight handbags. The American is in red, the Italian is in turquoise, and the German is in yellow. To remind us of them when they are in the air, Rob Howell has cleverly designed flashes of red, turquoise and yellow that zigzag across Bernard's chic white apartment.
Because of Bernard's grasp of the schedules, the girls never meet. But there is a new problem: the advent of the Boeing superjet. This has scythed hours off the timetables, which means that an in-apartment collision is very much on the cards. Bernard, however, is supremely optimistic. He can count on the help of his devoted maid, the superbly grumpy Frances de la Tour, who wearily pushes her own cleaning trolley around as if it's loaded with a corpse and resentfully knocks out national dishes for each fiancee, and he can see no reason why life shouldn't carry on merrily. …