Theatre in Wales

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Enjoyable Retro-Flight of Fancy

At Theatr Clwyd

Clwyd Theatr Cymru- Boeing Boeing , Anthony Hopkins Theatre, Clwyd Theatr Cymru , October 29, 2012
At Theatr Clwyd by Clwyd Theatr Cymru- Boeing Boeing Ben Jonson once wrote “In small proportions we just beauties see/ And in short measures, life may perfect be.” It is not a view shared by Bernard, the wealthy Parisian architect, at the centre of Marc Camoletti’s 1962 farce. Simon Dutton, handsome, sleek and silver-haired, fingers his airline guide and explains to school friend Robert how some careful scheduling can enable the juggling of three fiancées simultaneously. He even has a bolthole in the country. “If case anything goes wrong” he smirks “Not that it ever does.” It is a line guaranteed to elicit a knowing chuckle of anticipation from the audience.

Terry Hands and designer Mark Bailey have created a glorious retro world of big eyelashes and lacquered hair, polo necks and swivel chairs in white moulded plastic. The three high-flying air hostesses, Eleanor Howell, Caryl Morgan and Tara Dixon, wear the tight-waisted, tight-skirted uniforms, in primary red, blue and yellow, of their respective national airlines. The flight bags that they provocatively leave around Bernard’s flat are themselves historical relics- a couple of the carriers have been Easyjetted into bankruptcy.

There is a pleasurable knowingness on the part of the audience in Camoletti’s characterisation. Americans are loud, imperious and like molasses. Italians are tempestuous and jealous. Germans are intense and. even abroad. feast on frankfurters and sauerkraut. It is a world where women wrap themselves in thigh-hugging white towels but never lose their high heels. The three women also speak a wonderfully idiosyncratic English peppered with localisms like “basta the country” and “isn’t that wunderbar?” The play has a touch of late sweetness. When marriage is suddenly in the offing, Robert and Bernard are handed pillows. It is the sofa for them.

Robert, the school friend, arrives unexpectedly from Aix. His hometown provokes later on a heavy-going exchange with Caryl Morgan’s joyously over-the-top Gretchen. It muddles the Aix in the Midi with Germany’s Aix-la-Chapelle. Steven Meo, behind moustache, thick-rimmed glasses and matted hair, is the native of Provence who starts as the out-and-out provincial both aghast and awed at his friend’s light-hearted philandery. He finds himself, along with Victoria John’s stone-faced Bertha, gradually drawn into the escalating crescendo of complication and explanation. His passage from bystander to eager participant is a delight.

“Boeing Boeing” is proving to have a lot of life to it with big-name revivals in recent years in London and New York. It has certainly been an audience-pleaser in Mold with box-office tales of repeat visits. Al Senter provides a combative programme note that records Marc Camoletti’s remarkable theatre career; forty plays in fifty-five countries, more than twenty thousand performances. But, writes Senter, “Camoletti was not on the radar as far as academics and intellectuals were concerned.” It is probably true. Senter is a subscriber to the fallacies of the cultural studies movement. Firstly every phenomenon is equally worthy of the attention of scholarship and, secondly, the significance of a work of art rises in accord with its sales value. It is the view that a course on Homer, the cuddly guy from Springfield, is just as good as a course on Homer, that old Greek guy.

“Boeing Boeing” suffers from two obvious deficiencies. Good comedy is rooted in a bitter truth. Here, the conclusion, a neat pairing off, has no location in the characters. It is a just a plot device, no more nor less.

Secondly, when a Pinero or a Nestroy or a Ray Cooney sets up a judge or a grocer or a doctor, their characters have everything to lose. Social and professional humiliation threaten. In “Boeing Boeing” the worst that may happen is a squabble. Bernard’s public role, his clearly lucrative architectural practice, is unthreatened. As his character neither knows nor shows love, he may simply go and procure a new trio of sweethearts. The display of desperation is for the benefit of the audience; in the world of the characters nothing is really at stake. A farceur of the first league knows there is all the difference in the world between embarrassment and humiliation. The Clwyd company should be selecting division one writers only for revival. “Boeing Boeing” has the brash colours of a piece by Jeff Koons. It has the depth too.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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