Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour and Mark Rylance star in Marc Camoletti’s classic Sixties comedy of errors Boeing-Boeing, which opened last night (15 February, following previews from 3 February), at the West End’s Comedy Theatre (See News, 21 Dec 2006).

In the farce, a Paris-based English architect (Allam) attempts to juggle airline schedules to match his three air hostess fiancees’ work timetables, aided by his housekeeper (de la Tour) and naïve friend (Rylance). Boeing-Boeing, which originally opened in London in 1962, held the world record for the longest-running comedy in the West End, playing over 200 performances before transferring to Broadway.

Matthew Warchus directs this slightly revised version, based on Beverley Cross’ translation. The cast also features Daisy Beaumont, Tamzin Outhwaite and Michelle Gomez as Allam’s high-flying fiancées.

Overnight critics got caught up in the hilarity of the piece, which they found extremely well constructed, if a little dated. They praised Warchus’ direction, which they said enable the farce to take off, and were impressed by the performances of the strong cast, particularly highlighting the “inspired” Rylance for giving “the comic performance of a lifetime”.

  • Michael Coveney on (5 stars) – Coveney relished the “brilliant, deliriously funny revival by Matthew Warchus of a much maligned 1960s West End dinosaur.” He said: “Marc Camoletti’s French fracas, beautifully translated by the late Beverley Cross, is as ferociously funny as Feydeau and as catastrophically classic as Corneille…. Supervising the household where seven doors are in constant use on Rob Howell’s white, cool curvilinear design, is Bertha the maid, whom Frances de la Tour presents hilariously as a foot-dragging, seen-it-all slouch with a hang-dog air of unshakeable disapproval. Deadpan is too small a word to describe her reaction to Robert’s unwisely fulsome appreciation, likening her to a virgin in the story of the grail in the legend of the Nibelungen: ‘Well, I’ve been called worse…’…. Allam and Rylance show that the best of our classical actors are capable of conquering the most difficult of all acting challenges, farce. This is the best West End partnership since Donald Sinden and Michael Williams in Ray Cooney’s Two into One, and easily the funniest evening in London.”

  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (4 stars) – “Marc Camoletti's French farce, which ran in London for much of the Sixties, has not merely been revived - it has been buffed up, re-polished and given the kind of dream cast which the National Theatre used to devote to Feydeau. And the result, in Matthew Warchus' loving production, achieves a kind of delirium…. The triumph of Warchus' production is he presents us with real people rather than mechanical objects. Roger Allam's Bernard, bragging that his plan is ‘so precise as to be almost poetic’, perfectly exudes a peacock vanity which demands retribution. Frances de la Tour as his maid, preparing dishes to suit the hostesses' nationalities, from her first lazy saunter across the stage brilliantly suggests a woman wearied by her roles as cook, pimp and traffic-controller. The plum part is that of Robert, whom Mark Rylance invests with a Welsh accent and poll-scratching air of bemusement that reminds one of Stan Laurel at his best. Rylance… dazzlingly shows… how the outsider gets caught up in the wicked Parisian game…. Of the hostesses, Michelle Gomez is outstanding as the guttural German.”

  • Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (4 stars) – “It sounds like a standard recipe for an old-fashioned French sex-farce, with an apartment boasting bedrooms, into which girls have either to be quickly stuffed or prevented from looking. And Boeing-Boeing does indeed go in for dated gender stereotyping. Never mind. It works like a comic dream. Thanks… to Matthew Warchus' deliciously acted, psychologically nuanced production, with Rylance's inspired characterisation of Robert as a sweet, strange sexual innocent, desperate to try his hand, this Boeing-Boeing is pitched more as sexual comedy than situation farce. It works wonders. Only Allam's surprisingly dull, ponderous Bernard fails to make the comic grade…. (Rylance) peddles a fine line in desperation: he bars the bedroom to hostesses on grounds that proclaim his weirdness, falsely owns up to airline bags of intimate ladies' clothing as if a part-time cross-dresser. He submits to Tamzin Outhwaite's tart American hostess, who treats him as a kissing machine, in submissive amazement. It's the comic performance of a life-time.”

  • Benedict Nightingale in the Times (4 stars) – Nightingale said the farce is “funny enough for us to overlook implausibilities that seem even more preposterous than in 1962. Imagine today’s airlines arriving on time with such unerring precision that these serial mistresses can spend months popping into the same bed without so much as grazing each other’s passing bottoms…. Yet what’s striking about Matthew Warchus’ production isn’t so much the big ha-ha moments, with Rylance’s flummoxed Robert ensuring that Daisy Beaumont’s flamboyantly Italian Gabriella doesn’t invade the room in which Michelle Gomez’s fiercely Germanic Gretchen is secreted, or Allam’s increasingly panicky Bernard trying to curb Tamzin Outhwaite’s brashly American Gloria. No, the revival is at its best when comedy as opposed to farce is required. All three main performers score strongly here…. But in many ways it’s Rylance’s evening. Tell me: is there a subtler comic actor in London?”

    - by Caroline Ansdell