Polygamy by means of perpetual motion! Bernard lives in a sexual idyll, engaged to three different air hostesses whose trans-world jet-setting permits each of them to spend two different nights of the week with him in his flat. He is in a Judgement of Paris situation except that this Paris (and he lives in Paris, by the way) never has to choose between the three. The only stress is on his long-suffering housekeeper Bertha, who has to cook Italian cuisine for Gabriella, American for Gloria and frankfurters and sauerkraut for Gretchen. His innocent old friend Robert, arriving from the country, at once finds himself playing Mercury and thinks he has arrived in a heaven where there is a constant interchange of gorgeous women in short skirts. Until the flight schedules get changed…
Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing was a long-running farce legend when I was in short trousers (there is a film with Jerry Lewis), but never did I expect to see it on stage. Now Matthew Warchus has given it the de luxe treatment, with a cast led by three stars – Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour and Mark Rylance – who have the kind of experience in Shakespeare & Co that would have seemed superfluous to the original cast. They turn Boeing-Boeing into a big event: not just the funniest show in town but a kind of sensuous triumph where you watch first-rate acting as a miracle to be savoured. And they are aided and abetted by Tamzin Outhwaite (Gloria), Daisy Beaumont (Gabriella) and Michelle Gomez (Gretchen) – each delicious.
Roger Allam, so smooth and suave at first, has later moments when he seems to age whole decades before your eyes as his three fiancées keep popping in and out of the seven doorways of Rob Howell’s set, each pronouncing his name a different way. Mark Rylance, playing Robert with a Welsh accent, is a wide-eyed, stammering innocent abroad in clover: when leggy chicks fling themselves on him for passionate kisses without warning, he learns how to get them to repeat the experience. And Frances de la Tour, doing the subtlest, weariest, gentlest double-takes in theatre history, is the most marvellous of all. Bringing that nasal voice down into chest register, she has only to tell Gloria “I spend my life appreciating Monsieur” to crack us up.
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