Flying hijinks

Boeing Boeing (Growl Theatre)

Windsor School of Arts

August 20 – September 4

With its ‘In Flight Bar’ signage, row of mock aeroplane window views and pre-show flight announcements, Growl Theatre’s “Boeing Boeing” has the potential to be a depressing experience given the current state of our travel-less world, however, any such woe is quickly forgotten as the show starts and we learn of its story as Paris-based American businessman Bernard (Jon Darbro) shares his dilemma with visiting friend and wanna-be house guest Robert (Emile Regano).

Bernard’s smug playboy lifestyle is very much of its 1960s era, to the extent that he is currently juggling love affairs with three women… all international flight attendants (or hostesses as they were called back in that day). His life is one of perpetual motion until some pesky airline schedule changes bring it to an abrupt stop. And what ensues is a slapstick romp as his three fiancés, the American Gloria (Rhiannon Said), the Italian Gabriella (Victoria Little) and the German Gretchen (Liana Hanson), all touch down briefly in Paris and head to his apartment at the same time.

Though it is clear from early on as to how the French farce is going to unfold, its unravel is still highly entertaining, thanks to Brendan James and Charles Langford’s tight direction and the precise performances of those in the ensemble cast. Of particular note, Hanson is solid as the intense German air hostess Gretchen, with perfectly executed comic interjections. And Marion Jones is simply wonderful as Bernard’s belligerent, mature French maid Berthe who begrudgingly undertakes her duties, including ensuring that the three mistresses remain blissfully ignorant as to each other’s existence. Indeed, from her very first appearance on stage, she gets a laugh from virtually evey line of her ever no-nonsense dialogue and accompanying scornful facial expressions.

The majority of the funny, however, comes from Regano’s perfectly-pitched performance as Robert, Bernard’s old school friend, who gets himself into a hilarious state as he frantically attempts to conceal his friend’s affairs, while also trying to pursue a love interest of his own. And it is through him that the comedy ultimately crescendos to a farce of slamming doors and, as proof that timing really is everything in comedy, perfectly choreographed and executed near-misses of comings and goings (helped along by Bernard and Robert’s reactions).

The play by French playwright Marc Camoletti, whose English-language adaptation was first staged in London in 1962 is very much of its swinging ‘60s era, which is nicely reflected in the production’s staging and set dressing details, down to the retro pineapple ice bucket placed upon the apartment’s bar and the TWA et al travel bags carried by Berndard’s revolving door ladies. The tone is similarly clearly of its particular time and place with naughty “Allo Allo” type gags that don’t require too much thought to appreciate.

Certainly, there are ways in which the romp of “Boeing Boeing” has not aged well when considered through a contemporary cancel-culture lens. Its characters are one-dimensional and some of its comedy comes from cultural clichés and casual pats on the bum (though this is, in part, balanced by the ultimate self-determination of take-charge American fiancé Gloria). However, its laughs come more from the finely-honed rhythm of its physical comedy and comic timing, and the laughs come aplenty, which makes the comedic farce the crowd pleaser that we probably need right now.

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