Boeing BoeingBernard (Shaun Micallef) has it all worked out. His has organised his life scrupulously around his book of airline timetables so that he’s able to have not one but three air hostesses as fiancés, Gloria (Helen Dallimore) from TWA, Gabriella (Rachel Gordon) from Alitalia and Gretchen (Sibylla Budd) from Lufthansa. Thanks to his maid, Bertha (Judi Farr), Bernard is able to make sure the right photos are on the mantelpiece and the correct lunch is served. However it’s the arrival of Bernard’s old school friend Robert (Mitchell Butel) that begins to expose the cracks in Bernard’s life, that and the fact that Boeing has introduced a new airplane that will make his fiancés travel time shorter, meaning that they will all arrive at Bernard’s apartment on the same day.

Let the farce begin!

Boeing Boeing is an old fashioned French farce which is expertly directed by Matthew Warchus. The set is elegantly designed to reflect not only Bernard’s high flying lifestyle but also the appropriate stage mechanics required to ensure that the farce comes off smoothly. There’s something quaint, almost naïve, about Marc Camoletti’s script, as though it belongs to another place, another time (a time before Women’s liberation), but it successfully fulfils the classical objectives of farce. Although occasionally Beverley Cross and Francis Evans’ translation from the original French comes across a little too simplistically and you get the feeling that there is something lost in translation.

The performances from all of the female performers are exceptional. Sibylla Budd’s Gretchen is a study in control and she conveys the absurdity of her character with ease, and is as a result hilarious. Judi Farr is thoroughly convincing as the long suffering Bertha who handles each new disaster without batting an eyelid. Helen Dallimore’s Gloria is hilarious, cleverly subverting the stereotype that she initially appears to be portraying, while Rachel Gordon’s Gabriella is an excellent straight woman whose grace carries her through the play.

In contrast it’s the male performers (Micallef and Butel) who cause Boeing Boeing to veer off course. Micallef’s Bernard is inconsistent as a character and at times it’s difficult to believe that he is genuinely affected by his situation. This is in part due to the fact that Micallef’s performance is more parody than distinct characterisation. This is not to say that Micallef isn’t funny, he is, but we just don’t believe his reactions to his situation.

Butel on the other hand appears miscast, as he doesn’t have the stiffness and rigidity required to make Robert work as a character. As an actor Butel is a natural clown and has a wonderful comedic flexibility but he seems out of place in the body of the stiff almost repressed Robert. The character of Robert is designed to be indirectly funny and Butel’s performance, though funny, is at times a little too knowing. Also his choice of accent, a broad Australian strine, seems completely out of place for the play’s setting.

Having said this, Boeing Boeing is an exceptional evening out at the theatre and the comedy is sorely needed at a time when it seems that the theatre is being overrun by dramas. In this regard, a mild confusion over the forms of comedic performance (Farce and Parody) can be forgiven, as long as the play signals the return of comedy to the theatre.

Boeing Boeing
by Marc Camoletti

Venue: Comedy Theatre | 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Dates: June 7 to June 22, 2008
Times: Wednesday - Saturday 8pm, Wednesday 1pm, Thursday 12 June 1pm
Saturday 2pm, Sunday 1pm and 5pm
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012

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