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Theatre: Runway success

Playhouse breaks with panto tradition this year, But is it Boeing Boeing <I>bon</I>?. Heather Smith checks in

Published on December 19th 2008.


Theatre: Runway success

WHAT I love about the Everyman and Playhouse is that, the second you walk through the door, you’re part of the performance. And it’s great to see that, in what has been a hectic year for both theatres, they haven’t let their sense of humour slip one bit.

Marc Camoletti’s quirky 1960s French comedy, Boeing Boeing, is enjoying its regional premier in Liverpool, seeing the Playhouse well in to the New Year, but how many plane puns can you squeeze in pre-performance? Quite a few as it goes.

“Enjoy the flight,” smile the “cabin-crew”, the costumed usherettes as they signal toward the correct aisle. The French version of the Beatles’ All My Loving plays, welcoming passengers aboard. The programme talks of Liverpool “flying high this year” but “fuel in our engines for 2009” is the most important thing about CoC 08. How we laughed.

All this jesting, however, provides the right, light-hearted frame of mind for Boeing Boeing’s two and a half hour trip. You mustn’t take this knowingly farcical play seriously. You’ll either love or loathe Matthew Warchus’s direction of the Broadway and West End smash.

For the affluent British-born architect Bernard (Martin Marquez), polygamy is the perfect life. With perfect planning from his beautifully blunt live-in maid Bertha (Suzie Blake), he manages to juggle three stunning air stewardess fiancées, each of whom lovingly-return from their duties to Martin’s chic Parisian flat on different days of the week. It’s all about the timetables you see. Simple mathematics, he calls it. Problem is, the new super Boeing is speeding up the girl’s flights and it’s only a matter of time before the timetable crashes.

Each convinced of their happily settled status with soon-to-be husband Martin there is the American, Gloria (Sarah Jayne Dunn), the Italian, Gabriella (Thaila Zucchi) and the German, Gretchen (Josephine Butler). The trio of unashamedly nationalistic dolly trolleys, who work for TWA, Alitalia and Lufthansa respectively, are colour-coded red, blue and yellow by their company uniforms complete with matching air-line bags, which become central to the development of the plot.

Credit should be given to designer Rob Howell for creating this memorable iconographic key. Three globes, one in each of the primary colours, are suspended from the ceiling and three mirrors hang on the wall clearly distinguishable from the otherwise plain white interior. A single rose also sits in a vase onstage, alternating in colour depending upon which girl is stopping over.

Along with remembering who eats what, constantly tidying and changing the bed clothes, maid and all-round manager Bertha has yet another head to cater for when Martin’s long lost cousin from the provinces, Robert (John Marquez) shows up at the door after more than ten years.

Being somewhat ill-fated with the ladies himself, Robert – who is brilliantly performed - is bemused and bewildered by Martin’s loaded love entanglement but is hilariously keen to learn more about it. His faultless attempt at a rural Welsh accent had a lot to contend with, for the six-strong cast all boasted distinctive dialects thanks to coach Sally Hague, although the at-times-terrifying German Gretchen was the only one to come close in winning more audience affection.

Occasionally, scenes felt like they were lasting too long, after all there are no set changes and very little music to refresh the intrigue but, whenever my mouth began to open uncontrollably as if to yawn, Robert or Bertha would step up with a classic line, re-opening the laughter can.

The super tight performance is neatly sealed with a sharply choreographed, applause-encouraging curtain call - courtesy of Kathleen Marshall- which gladly extends the silly snippets of dancing provided in the plot.

The fantastically farcical play is perfect for an easy-going evening’s entertainment and provides lots of steady laughs. Be sure to catch this fresh cast production before it goes flying off around the country in January.

8/10

Boeing Boeing @ the Liverpool Playhouse, until 17th Jan 2009, to book tickets visit

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AlexDecember 19th 2008.

A pretty fair review. The first act (75 mins) did spend a lot of time setting up the story, but it turned out to be worth the wait. A number of the laughs are based on racial stereotypes: a loud American, a physically intimidating German with a booming voice and an Italian who seems constantly to be on the verge of hysteria. Cousin Robert is the star though, overcoming his ponderous backwater existence in an attempt to save Martin from discovery.

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