Marc Camoletti’s tightly-plotted 1960s farce is given a barnstorming revival courtesy of director James McAndrew and producer Emma-Louise Amanshia.
Set in Paris, the action centres on the meticulous arrangements of Bernard (Alex Hollingsworth), who is engaged to three women – each an air-hostess from a different airline. Using the flight schedules, Bernard organises his life so that he has ‘one up, one down, and one pending’, as he explains to his newly arrived friend Robert (Nick Walters). However, when a storm strikes and flights are cancelled the two men suddenly find themselves dealing with all three fiancées in Bernard’s flat, without letting them find out about each other. The comic timing and slapstick generate uproarious humour as Bernard, Robert and his confused housekeeper Bertha (Flo Hapgood) work themselves in to a frenzy as they try to control the chaos. A particular highlight is Bernard’s meltdown when he realises his plans have gone awry.
The trio of glamorous air-hostesses, although in theory at risk of being too similar, are each brought to life with a distinctive personality. Gloria (Genevieve Cunnell), an American, is poised and assured. Italian Gabriella (Emma Dearden), is initially cool but also becomes passionate when she senses trouble in her relationship with Bernard. Meanwhile, obsessive German Gretchen (portrayed by Rosie Van Oss) is intensely fixated on her fiancé. Each actor gives a fantastic performance, making the hostesses unique, vibrant characters while all equally alluring enough to send Bernard and Robert head-over-heels (figuratively and literally at some points).
Alex Hollingsworth gives Bernard a bumbling charm rather than presenting him as a seedy lothario, whose miraculous chance to live a male fantasy is scuppered by the three forceful women. As the play progresses, he gains an admirable maturity. Meanwhile, Nick Walters as the wide-eyed Robert lights up the stage with every appearance. With endless energy, he employs an extreme physicality as his character moves swiftly from leering at the hostesses, apoplectic rage at Bernard’s inability to understand the situation, and to a kinder, more bashful side. The two men create a touching double act of their own. The cast is completed by Flo Hapgood, who is especially memorable as the chain-smoking housekeeper, Bertha. While sarcastic and irritated by having to work for Bernard’s numerous guests, she is nevertheless affecting as she sweetly reveals her loneliness and, though extremely over-worked, attempts to play along with Bernard’s confusing state of affairs.
The 1960s costume design is stylish and gives each hostess a bold primary colour to symbolise their natures. The symbolic red, blue and yellow can also be seen in details of the elegant set, designed by Chelsea Jayne Wright and Phil Geller, which recreates the interior of a swanky Paris flat with curving walls and retro props. Crucially, it also features six fully functional doors, essential for the farcical nature of the play – although the ever-zealous Gretchen managed to tear off a door handle as she searches frantically for Bernard.
The farce is accompanied by an upbeat soundtrack, featuring a variety of songs on the themes of love and flying. The finale deserves a special honour for perhaps the most elaborate curtain call the New Theatre has ever seen, choreographed by Sophie Tebbutt. Altogether the cast and crew have delivered a dazzling production that, in keeping with the aeronautical theme, leaves the audience not just high in the sky but in seventh heaven.
Image: Nottingham New Theatre
Boeing Boeing runs until Saturday 15th at Nottingham New Theatre. To book tickets email: [email protected]