Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Justin Audibert
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
Terence Rattigan has been receiving a revival somewhat of late with several West End productions in the last five years; Cause Celebre, Flare Path, The Deep Blue Sea. This production by Original Theatre Company, who created the incredibly successful stage version of Birdsong, remains rooted firmly in the time it was written, creating a naturalistic ‘slice-of-life’ production.
Inspired by Rattigan’s time as a bomber in WW2 Flare Path focuses on a country hotel where three sets of married couples are converging as the wives of the airmen come to visit and must await their husband’s fates after a last-minute night-time raid is called. The crux of the play focuses on a love triangle between the ‘good old chap’ Teddy (Alistair Whately), who likes to play the fool despite his rank, and his relatively new wife Pat (Olivia Hallinan), an attractive actress, and her old flame/current lover the matinée idol Peter Kyle (Leon Ockenden), whom everyone swoons over. As the wives await their return we see that this hotel provides not only a safe haven and false sense of normality for the men but also acts as a kind of purgatory for the women. The naturalistic staging, never changing, enhances the slightly claustrophobic feeling and the tense atmosphere.
The play is engaging and director Justin Audibert has worked at creating moments of lightness and loveliness amid the serious realities. The majority of the actors give well-rounded performances regardless of whether they get much stage time or not, for example the comic value of Count Skriczevinsky’s poor English (Adam Best) or the ever-interfering bar-boy Percy (James Cooney). Dusty (Simon Darwen) gets some of the best lines in the play and never throws them away, he is engaging to watch in every moment he is on stage.
Alastair Whately gives a cracking performance as Teddy, switching from fool to serious skipper to vulnerable man, seemingly comfortable beneath the skin of a man from a very different time. Sadly, the performances of Leon Ockenden and Olivia Hallinan never truly spark; although this could be a directorial decision to highlight their ‘acting’ as actors, their relationship fails to connect with the audience. However, Olivia’s performance becomes more alive and interesting in the second half as she connects with her husband. The audience cannot help but root for Teddy to keep his wife, particularly as the character of Peter is given little of moral substance to win them over. Rattigan gives the audience little choice about how the dilemma will work out “We do owe these boys something”.
A critique of the play itself would be its disturbingly optimistic ending. The programme notes state that more than half of the men who flew bombers died and yet, although a threat is posed to the characters, the true effects of the war never touch their lives. We never know the names or faces of those that die within this play which fails to bring the true horror and nature of the reality of these men’s lives home to the audience.
Whether it is the language or the movement, at times the production feels a little too mannered and forced; the script is partly to blame but also the performances. It is possible that this production needs some life breathing back into it after being on tour for so long.
Runs until 14 November 2015 | Photo: Jack Ladenburg