Make Room for the Prevailing Winds

Marinell HaegelinBy Marinell Haegelin

Boeing-Boeing by Marc Camoletti at English Theatre with Clifford Dean directing.

The perfect antidote to nippy wintry darkness is sidesplitting laughter. Conveniently, the English Theatre’s overwhelmingly popular French farce is just that antidote. Translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, Boeing-Boeing’s set in the 1960s as winds of change blew across boundaries, and continents. Just like a suddenly released compressed spring, once audiences start laughing they’ll continue until the enthralling, rousing ending.

"BOING BOING" The English Theatre of Hamburg
From left Holly Smith (Gabriella), Stephen Chance (Robert), and James Walmsley (Bernard)

Bernard’s life is enviable: a lovely Paris flat with a trusty housekeeper, Berthe, and a drop-dead gorgeous fiancé. The American architect’s school chum unexpectedly arrives, meets Gloria (TWA) as she takes off, and then confesses he’s looking for “a lovely girl.” Gloatingly, Bernard informs Robert he has three fiancés, “do it my way… three is a dream.” Conveniently engaged to an American, German, and Italian, all airline hostesses, Bernard cautions that organization and a timetable are mandatory. And Berthe to help keep track of menus, photographs, et al. Gabriella’s (Alitalia) next in; her energetic personality makes Robert so awkward he’s tongue-tied. But later, from the moment they meet, Robert’s smitten with Gretchen (Lufthansa). As the day wears on, weather patterns change tossing everyone’s schedule in the air. Until, with prevailing winds seemingly against him Bernard’s plum worn out. Whereas Robert’s playing catch-up at a remarkable pace. Particularly, when the three damsels arrive expecting to spend the evening with her fiancé.

French playwright Marc Camoletti’s theatrical successes began in Paris in 1958 with his three plays being performed simultaneously. Of his 40plus plays, Boeing-Boeing’s improbable plot captured Parisians’, then international audiences’ hearts. Its London subsequent début-run of 2000 performances extended over seven years, with a 1965 American film adaptation, plus several later film versions worldwide. Camoletti, an associate of the Soceiete National des Beaux Arts, has had ten plays televised. And numerous revivals give testament to Camoletti’s continuing popularity.

"BOING BOING" The English Theatre of Hamburg
Jan Hirst (Berthe) left, and Madeleine Hutchins (Gretchen) right

Seasoned director Clifford Dean wanted to infuse his personal lust for this period of American culture and nostalgia in the play, while honoring its integrity as classic farce. He recognized that the catalysts are Bernard and Robert. Their similarities and differences make the slapstick interplay amongst themselves and the other characters gel, with Berthe grounding their tumultuous dealings. The London farceurs’ portrayals are spot-on. For Stephen Chance (Robert) the trick is “making it make sense,” considering this American translation is from a British translation of a French play. His character may be unsophisticated, but his street smarts keep track of what’s happening where and with whom. For James Walmsley (Bernard) the challenge is maintaining the equilibrium of someone living life contraire to his convictions. James mentions the chemistry between all of the actors in the play is fluid, always developing.

The gals nail their characters’ countries characteristics beautifully. They care about their characters feelings, and they balance the ludicrousness of the situation, while being true to the character they are portraying. Madeleine Hutchins (Gretchen) is attuned to playing her German character to predominantly German audiences. Charlotte Knowles (Gloria) notes that although there are cultural differences, their aspirations are the same. Holly Smith (Gabriella) likes donning diverse characters; in farce one can take it to the next level, yet must be down-to-earth. In developing her character, Jan Hirst (Berthe) was concerned about finding the right balance between grumpiness and likeability. The audience’s warm response is her liberating confirmation.

"BOING BOING" The English Theatre of Hamburg
From left Madeleine Hutchins (Gretchen, Lufthansa), Charlotte Knowles (Gloria, TWA), and Holly Smith (Gabriella, Alitalia)

All the actors concur that working at the English Theatre is like being with family. Delighted being in this beautiful city, they’ve already planned a group outing to Hamburg’s DOM. The pinnacle of Dean’s personal homage to the 1960s is achieved through an extravaganza curtain call. With Paul Glaser (Associate Director) choreographing, the thespians gamely perform a kind of dance routine to music from that period. Now, there’s no stopping them, or the fun good-time vibes on our whimsical flight.

BOEING-BOEING premiered November 16 and runs until February 3, 2018. The next production is THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde (adapted by Merlin Holland and John O’Connor). Premiering on February 15, 2018, it runs through April 14, 2018.

Evening and matinee performances; tickets available at the theatre or online: The English Theatre of Hamburg, Lerchenfeld 14, 22081 Hamburg, Tel: 040-227 70 89: U-Bahn Mundsburg.

Images credit: © Kock, ETH