26 November - 3 December 2011
Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm
An immensely moving story of a time when duty, courage and sacrifice were common-place values and love was capable of conquering all.
2011 marks the centenary of Terence Rattigan's birth. Flare Path, written in 1941 and first performed in 1942, draws heavily on Rattigan's own experience as a tail gunner in the RAF coastal command during WW11. It is an inmmensely moving story of a time where duty, courage and sacrifice were commonplace values and love was capable of conquering all.
Written in 1941 Terrence Rattigan’s Flarepath depicts the public and personal duties and dilemmas of those caught up in war. In this moving and engrossing play Rattigan, who himself served as a tail gunner, illuminates the personal stories of ordinary people who acted with stoicism, bravery, and heroism. Reading the foyer exhibition I noted that 51 out of 100 aircrew personnel died in bombing raids. Flare Path is particularly refreshing because the characters Rattigan chooses to include in this ensemble piece hail from a range of differing classes and backgrounds. In the extraordinary circumstances of war group ethos, responsibility and affinities become more important than personal front or prejudices.
The action is set in an hotel lounge in Lincolnshire in the autumn of 1942 where aircraft crews and their loved ones spent time before and after bombing raids. Even before the curtain went back it was clear that a lot of care and attention to detail had been put into this production. The front of house message to turn off mobile phones was delivered in the style of a BBC home service broadcast and was an apt and amusing start to the evening. The perfectly realised set designed by Eddie Redfern and director Cathryn Parker transported an appreciative audience right back to a world of rationing, the occasional pink gin, American cigarettes and cups of tea round the wireless. Cathryn Parker found a cast capable of playing authenticity, humour, pathos and charm with great conviction.
The curtain rises on Doris, now Countess Skriczevinsky and formerly a barmaid played with warmth and humour by Trish Richings. At first her social pretensions are intentionally annoying until we discover later, in a beautifully written and well played ‘love letter’ scene between her and Peter Kyle that she married Count Skriczevinsky – played elegantly by Tony Bannister while grappling with a Polish accent – after comforting him when his wife and child had been killed by the Nazis. Endearing young actor Owen Daughtery is charming as Percy the enthusiastic waiter who runs around serving the needs of the residents of the Falcon Hotel. Anna Crabtree is wonderful as the no-nonsense Mrs Oakes who manages the hotel and tries to maintain standards in a war torn Britain.
Chris Parke playing Peter Kyle - the film star whose career is waning - succeeds in making the audience care about his dilemma, which on the face of it, could pale into insignificance when set alongside the fate of the RAF crews. When begging Patricia (played with poise by Meg Depla-Lake as a study in the rather brittle glamour and contained emotion of the period) to leave her pilot husband and come away with him, he laments the fact that he can’t get back into real life. His view that the topsy- turvy world at war that he has missed out on was more ‘real’ than his actor’s life was surprisingly poignant. Both the actors and director did well to pull back from too stylised, cliched portrayals during the romantic scenes.
Damian Sutton made a believable Flight-Lieutenant Teddy Graham, whose teddy bearish charm conceals shattered nerves. The breakdown scene in which he tells his beloved wife, Patricia, of the realities and terrors of bombing raids and which, inadvertently, leads her not to run away with her true love Peter Kyle, was moving. Here, as in many pivotal scenes, Rattigan counterbalances the romanticism by his genius for controlled emotion and both actors conveyed this well.
Sgt. Dusty Miller (James Collins) and
Mrs. Maudie Miller (Lindsay Holledge)
were a lovely, humorous double act
as the working class young couple
whose one night together is cut short
by a bombing raid. Rattigan cleverly
sets up the possibility that the eager to
please Dusty may not come back alive.
The understated goodbye between
the enthusiastic tail gunner and his
sometimes acerbic wife is all the more
moving for its simplicity.
I particularly enjoyed Nicholas Betteridge as Squadron Leader ‘Gloria’ Swanson who was calm, warm and totally believable as the man who stays behind and deals with the fallout of the raids. The scene in which Swanson and Doris watched the planes take off for the dangerous raid was especially gripping.
Flare Path is an extremely well plotted, moving, ensemble piece with timeless relevance. It is a clear and moving portrait of people at war and the personal and public sacrifices made. Teddy Graham’s line ‘Darling we’ve got to win this war – oh how very Daily Mail of me!’ is just one of Rattigan’s many lines which resonate with a modern audience. I enjoyed the production very much and the care and commitment of the director, cast and crew were clearly evident and yielded much. The play and its themes and strands have stayed with me and have prompted me to revisit more of Rattigan’s work.