Love is In the Air Up There: A Playboy’s High-Flying Farce
Directed by Keith Myers, the French romantic comedy Boeing Boeing takes the summer stage at Vienna’s English Theatre
In love, we must all strive for harmony, but also variety, at all cost and all chaos, according to the playboy lead character in French playwright Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing, an entertaining story of one man’s attempts to juggle three different relationships with three separate flight attendants while keeping them in the dark about his exploits with each one.
Presented by Vienna’s English Theatre in a translation by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans, Boeing Boeing features a stellar cast, including Charles Davies in the role of dashing playboy Bernard, who holds an appetite for adventure and pretty women. The women Bernard chooses to “get engaged” to are an Alitalia flight attendant, a Lufthansa flight attendant, and a no-nonsense TWA flight attendant – all of whom are perfect, laments Bernard, because “the strict admission procedures of the airlines guarantee a stressed businessman hand-picked, physically and morally unblemished young ladies of the utmost quality.”
Bernard believes he has everything under control with his trusty flight timetables. Two days for one woman, two days for a second, and two days for a third. What could be better? Until one day, the introduction of the new, faster “Super Boeing” sends things flying in a different direction.
Davies delivers a convincing Bernard, peppered with humour and the occasional hint of self pity and, yes, guilt – if ever so slight. Bernard’s best friend Robert, who pays him an unexpected visit, is at first sceptical of Bernard’s shenanigans. That scepticism eventually turns to panic when the flight attendants – who have all suddenly arrived at Bernard’s Parisian flat one fateful day – nearly collide, exposing Bernard’s infidelity and lies and nearly driving his housekeeper crazy.
British Director Keith Myers, having lent his talent to more than 100 productions, mainly in the U.K., does a fantastic job of keeping the 1960 classic farce moving and the actors physical without being overly slapstick. The one hiccup: The performance goes on about 15 minutes too long. By prolonging the final scene of musical doors with three flight attendants going in and out of one door or another, Davies brings the audience right up to the brink of wanting it to end – not out of suspense or fear, but out of sheer exhaustion. It was almost palpable.
Boeing Boeing is a farce in the true sense of the genre. The farce – a light play in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect – is gaining in popularity, with works like Boeing Boeing popping up in theatres across Europe, especially in London’s West End. As Myers, who has directed a number of farce-comedies, notes, two such plays are selling out in London and on Broadway: Carlo Goldoni’s early Italian classic A Servant of Two Masters, re-titled One Man, Two Governors and Michael Frayn’s Noises Off.
Boeing Boeing became a household name when it took to the silver screen in 1965 – three years after its English translation – starring comedian Jerry Lewis as Robert, the dapper Tony Curtis as Bernard and the rip-roaringly funny Thelma Ritter as Bertha, Bernard’s live-in and fed-up housekeeper. In 1991, it still held its place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most performed French play throughout the world.”
But in Davies’ version, it is Eithne Browne’s Bertha that steals the show. She is the centre of the hurricane and all else swirls around her. Browne delivers a wisecracking, heavily accented portrayal of an over-worked housekeeper tired of changing menus and changing bedroom décor. Browne is witty and charming. Her timing is perfect, not unlike that of Ritter. Browne is brilliant in this production.
When the “Super Boeing” starts bringing in each flight attendant off-schedule and with little warning, chaos ensues. “Drink up,” Bertha tells Robert, “we are in for a stormy night!”
Veteran actress Tammy Joelle and relative newcomers Tara Dixon and Erica Guyatt are funny as the three flight attendants. Dixon’s good looks are intoxicating (and her exaggerated Italian accent isn’t bad, either). All three are hilarious in their ridiculously excessive portrayals of American, Italian and German flight attendants. Boeing Boeing is charming, funny and well suited for the intimacy of Vienna’s English Theatre.
How does this farce end?
Without giving too much away, let it suffice to transcribe Myer’s description the typical scenario in his playbill “Director’s Notes”: “Many, but not all, farces end with a return to relative safety and normality, but it has been suggested that the best farce leaves us with the troubling thought – what if disorder is the norm, anarchy and chaos do prevail, and the Lord of Misrule has taken over for good?”
Through 4 July
Vienna’s English Theatre
8., Josefsgasse 12, (01) 402 12 60-0