Review: Flare Path, by Terence Rattigan, Original Theatre Company, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until Saturday October 24
- Credit: Archant
This latest revival of Flare Path, Terence Rattigan’s heartfelt tribute to the flight crews of the RAF and their wives, is a very good looking show, told with plenty of verve and energy.
The story, set in the lounge of a small, family-run hotel just outside the gates of a Lincolnshire bomber-base, is filled with strong, well-drawn characters which reflect the close bonds which sprang-up between people during the dark days of the Second World War. Social barriers came down and people drawn from completely different backgrounds became best mates. In the play, two of the strongest friendships exist between upper class Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham (Alastair Whatley) and his resolutely working class tail gunner Sergeant Dusty Miller (Simon Darwen). Their lives depend on one another and you realise, as the play progresses, that these bonds of friendship will never be broken, even when peace returns.
It’s a play written with integrity and a great deal of honesty. It is a play of its time and yet is also imbued with a tremendous sense of history. As we wait with the wives in the hotel for the aircrew to return we, a modern day audience catch a glimpse at what it must have been like for them to experience this long wait, hoping for the best, but deep down unsure whether they would ever see their loved ones again.
Just to complicate matters there is a complex three-way love affair waiting to be resolved once everyone is safely back at The Falcon Hotel. It’s a play which demands respect which sadly, at times, I felt was lacking in this Original Theatre Production. Rattigan is not mannered like Noel Coward but I felt that director Justin Audibert had opted to turn Flare Path into a pastiche of Coward’s Private Lives.
Some of the scenes were also played with too broad a brush. It was as if they were signalling to the audience “Okay, folks, this bit is funny.”
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Rattigan has carefully constructed a self-contained world. It works best when you play it straight and treat the characters as real people – not caricatures from another age. The humour should arise naturally from the situation and you should share the sense of loss when some aircraft don’t return from their mission. Rattigan has created an almost perfect blend of comedy and tragedy but like any delicate cocktail, it needs to be mixed and handled with great care.
Sadly the roles of the Count and Countess (Doris) Skriczevinsky were too broad, played too much for laughs, for us to really empathise with them when things go wrong in the second act while Leon Ockenden, as visiting film star Peter Kyle, appears to be on auto-pilot. He lacks any sense of passion, anger or frustration which the part demands.
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That said, the trio of airmen played by Philip Franks (Squadron Leader Swanson), Alastair Whatley (Teddy Graham), Simon Darwen (Dusty Miller) were terrific and gave their roles the believability that Rattigan demands as did Olivia Hallinan as Teddy’s conflicted wife Patricia Warren.
No review can be complete, however, without huge praise for the design team: Hayley Grindle (Set & costumes), Alex Wardle (lighting) and Dominic Bilkey (sound) for a visual and aural triumph.
Flare Path remains a cracking play, with plenty to enjoy, but is frustratingly handicapped by some unfortunate creative decisions.