FringeReview UK 2019
Three years on from Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing and it sequel, also set about three years alter comes to the BLT, adapted by Robin Hawdon, involving three of the previous play’s cast and directed by Tina Sitko. Steve Adams helms Design of the single set, painting construction (with help from Tom Williams for scene and other painting) lighting design and stage management. Light and sound are operated by Claire Ghiaci, costumes by Myles Locke and the cast.
For a farce there’s only one spot of monotony. That’s how uniformly outstanding this is, a production that’d grace the Theatre Royal or look at home as a companion to the Old Vic’s Faydeau A Flea in Her Ear from March 2011.
It’s three years on in real time since Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing came to BLT in February 2016, and this sequel, Don’t Dress for Dinner set in 1969 and again directed by Tina Sitko, is about three years on too. And it involves three Boeing Boeing cast members. Robin Hawdon’s version translates with all howlers blazing; good farceurs love fatuous puns.
Laura Scobie again throws the minestrone jealousy of Gabriele, lothario Bernard’s wife; but both clasp a secret. Frankie Knight previously the bouncing air stewardess Gloria superbly puts across the easy-come-and-go of his mistress Suzanne’s character. And again Robert the Cleese-like friend enjoys the longest journey, developing most: Paul Morley recaptures his emergence from bumpkin to wearily sophisticated player with relish.
Michael Williams’ Bernard has a dilemma. Wanting to entertain his mistress Suzanne he finds his wife suddenly changes her plans to visit her mother when she finds out Bernard’s best friend Robert is arriving (as alibi) since she… yes is also seeing Robert.
Robert though under protest (the now furiously jealous Gabriella) has to pretend he’s having an affair with Suzanne, who’s coming, Bernard says to make Robert’s stay memorable. Then there’s Suzette from the agency arriving to cook for the two men whilst Gabriella was off to her mother.
And so Suzanne arrives, except she’s cook Suzette whom Robert left alone to admit, confuses with Suzanne; who turns up an hour later… Suzette’s asked to pretend to be Suzanne, and Suzanne has to be the late-arriving cook; not her forte. Mandy-Jane Jackson’s superb Suzette at least keeps demanding extra payments and discovers a penchant for liqueurs she never suspected in herself. Suzette Cointreau? Oh and there’s Suzette’s very late arriving husband: George, Rob Punter’s truculent menace.
Steve Adams helms design of the single set, a living room converted from a barn with ‘cowshed’ as bedroom ‘piggery’ spare bedroom and so on, all gabled and French paysan upwardly chic in the French manner. And how French it all is. The door and window under changing light from violet to blue to midnight beautifully open out the back. and n praise is high enough for the suggestiveness of space. Painting construction (with help from Tom Williams for scene and other painting) lighting design and stage management are as ever crisply finished and exemplary, evoking period. Light and sound are operated by Claire Ghiaci. This production also sports memorable costumes by Myles Locke and the cast that exemplify 1969. That horribly good taste of self-coloured couture, mustard coats and rapeseed yellow dresses.
This production never falters. Farce has to work furiously or fall apart, which is why only the most professional companies can mount them with confidence. No fears for BLT’s company then who if anything improve on their form in Boeing Boeing.
Since everyone’s exemplary, it only remains to pick out a few extraordinary moments. I wonder if Williams is too frenetically panicking to soon. Not that this matters a jot in farce but he might start from merely mild panic. What Williams manages though is convey the terror of a one-shot strategist who’s just been plugged.
Scobie’s purring ferocity is beautifully controlled. She’s compromised as much as her husband and the way she has to negotiate a two-pronged jealousy whilst hiding her own adulterous passions is exquisitely handled, mostly with a mix of Italianate passions and culinary business and French savoir-faire, except she’s not as savvy as she thinks. And she suddenly leaps from scold to hot in a blink. Scobie’s poise is memorable and adds depth to caricature.
Morley’s a vertiginous delight. There are moments towards the end when this production reaches the heights of farce I’ve not even seen at the Old Vic, when Morley has to acquire a bloody nose whilst catapulted with two other people (Williams and Jackson) over a sofa. It’s not so much echoes of striding Cleese Morley evokes faintly – it’s a different energy, a tall man cut down to size – namely 200 francs every ten minutes. Six foot five of sheer haplessness tripping over itself.
Jackson has to equal Morley as the comic lynchpin, and she triumphs in a series of registers: sang-froid, venal, earthy, pseudo-posh, increasingly tipsy. Whether laconically spinning roles for multiple employers on a centime which costs thousands, bartering up, laconically dressing up, having aprons torn off to reveal, well someone a lot less like a cook with hair loosed and suddenly exciting jealousy, or handling all kinds of men in drunk tangos and jealous husbands, Jackson’s character is a triumph of timing and timbre.
Frankie Knight’s Susanne has to simply fail to dress down as a cook, the society woman whose best suit is a sudden bonding with Gabriella over the faithlessness of men and plotting revenge. Knight conveys a kind of resigned laissez-faire and liberation once she’s out of that hideously effective expensive haute couture. Punter’s easily strong enough to impress at the end.
Sitko must take credit for cracking this pace, and though it helps being reunited with three actors so attuned to her way with Camoletti, this is if possible even fresher: convincing us this successor to Boeing Boeing is every way its equal as well as standing alone.
Little more’s needed to entice anyone who loves farce, superb theatre, actors at the top of their game, and a wry comment on sexual accommodation. The French do it so much better.