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Sheffield Theatres' launches new adaptation of Boeing Boeing

Director Jonathan Humphreys, and members of the cast, talk about working on the classic French farce.

Jonathan Humphreys' work may be familiar to Sheffield audiences, who have seen his productions of The Village Bike and Happy Days in the Crucible Studio. His current production of the classic French farce Boeing - Boeing is somewhat of a departure in style from his previous repertoire, though perhaps not as much as you might think: "Directing a farce is quite similar to directing Beckett", he insists, "because you're dealing with a universe that the writer has imagined and worked out the timing of".

Director Jonathan Humphreys in rehearsal for Boeing Boeing.
© Mark Douet

Humphreys has never directed a farce before, but explains that he has always enjoyed watching them, and is attracted by the idea that many people find them old-fashioned. Joseph Kloska, who plays Robert, considers that the play is not so much old-fashioned as it is a period piece. "There's no point trying to update it", he explains, "it is firmly rooted in the sexual politics of the 1960s and the glamour that surrounded air travel at that time; and a lot of the plot is dependent on the limited technology of the period. But the play survives and has remained popular because it has a fantastic understanding of how funny it is to see characters under pressure".

Christian McKay, who plays the central character Bernard - a Parisian architect with three different air hostesses on the go - is equally convinced by the play's pedigree. "It is the perfect French farce", he considers, "the best of its genre, and a master class in the construction of comedy". Whilst the play may be very much a product of the 1960s, its concerns are far from alien to a modern day audience. "The fundamental idea in the play is the difficulty of monogamy", reveals Humphreys, "which is as pertinent now as it was then. Ultimately, the play affirms the traditional value of marriage, but it does so by first exploring the chaos of the other": a pattern at the heart of much comic theatre, from Shakespeare to the present day.

But for Humphreys, the main attraction of farce is that it is "pure theatre". "They have no real literary value", he explains; "they exist purely in the moment you are watching them, when they will either take flight or crash to the ground. So that's a monumental challenge for a director, and it's also a lot of fun".

All the cast are having fun, though as Kelly Price, who plays American air hostess Gloria cautions, "you also have to treat it quite seriously". Price, who recently appeared in the acclaimed One Man Two Guvnors, recalls that director Nicholas Hytner would not allow his cast to laugh at one another during rehearsals. Humphreys' approach is less draconian, but "you have to make sure you're doing it for an audience, not for each other", she explains. "Rehearsing a farce is like rehearsing a piece of music", she adds; "it's about getting up to speed, finding the rhythm, finding the groove".

Boeing Boeing runs at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield from 15 May – 7 June.