Theatre review: Boeing Boeing
We have take off
In tough and troubling times, there's nothing like a good laugh to lift the spirits. And perhaps that in itself was reason enough for W!LD RICE to re-stage a play that was first presented in Singapore in 2002. Written by French playwright Marc Camoletti, theatre buffs would be aware that Boeing Boeing is a favourite here, having been staged twice thereafter in 2005 and 2010, always to sold-out audiences. Maybe Singaporeans really love air stewardesses, but this reviewer has never seen a staging of Boeing Boeing before, and was slightly taken aback to note that it did not in fact take place on a jet, but in an apartment.
The apartment — which was an uncanny stand-in for just about any nameless, upscale condominium in Singapore — was cleverly re-built from the walls of W!LD RICE's last set for La Cage aux Folles by Eucien Chua, and this scrappy, can-do attitude was part of the delightful energy that buoyed the performance.
This version features a cast of seasoned (and it must be noted multi-racial) theatre names like Judee Tan, Oon Shu An, Shane Mardjuki and Rodney Oliveiro, as well as lesser-known ones like recent LASALLE graduate Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai and Filippino actress Bibeth Orteza. With a cast of international stewardesses, there was a sense that times had changed since its first staging. Under the direction of actress Pamela Oei, who starred in two of the previous productions, things moved at a zippy pace. The slamming doors and constant goings-and-comings were all part of the very physical comedy — Oon had to dive into an impromptu yoga pose in one memorable bit and the plentiful, giddy exchange of kisses was key to the plot. Oliveiro who played Bernard — the deceitful, but still not completely unsympathetic lothario at the centre of the play — was glistening with sweat by the end of the evening. And the commitment to the physical aspects was certainly seen throughout the entire cast.
To enjoy Boeing Boeing, both disbelief and righteous indignation at racial sterotyping have to be left at the theatre door. Expect a lot of exaggerated accents, and an almost caricaturish portrayal of national traits. If thick Filipino or Indian accents and the heavy Zs of a native Chinese speaker make you cringe, consider yourself warned. One of the standouts for us was Mardjuki as Bernard's country bumpkin-like mate Robert Toh who — as he never let us forget — hailed from Kuching. Slipping from guileless small town man to slippery snake, Mardjuki made the transition so effortlessly, we barely even noticed.
Another interesting trait of staging a farce, is how each actor is able to imbue their role with as much exaggeration as they deem fit. Oon's canny and charming Singapore Airlines stewardess Jeanette was not the flashiest of the three ladies vying for Bernard's attention, but her uniquely Singaporean intonations and gleeful departure from the apartment upon Miranda Kerr-ing, certainly raised the chuckles. And Tan, as the wildly contradictory Air China stewardess Jin Jin — who managed to be coy, romantic and fierce all at once — was a huge and compelling stage presence, even when she was being ridiculous.
I didn't leave Victoria Theatre feeling a great sympathy or attachment to any of the characters... this is after all not meant to be a deep and introspective play. But if you are able to suspend your disbelief — couldn't the three women hear the shrill sounds of each other's voices within the confines of the apartment after all — you will be rewarded. Like most of the audience, I came, I laughed, and for two hours, the world did not seem like such a dark and complicated place after all.
Boeing Boeing runs till 22 July at Victoria Theatre. Book tickets.