Flare Path – Oxford Playhouse

Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Justin Audibert
Reviewer: Fergus Morgan


In every programme biography of Terence Rattigan, there is a paragraph or two on how his star fell from grace in the 1950s with the arrival of Beckett, Brecht and most importantly, John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger. One imagines that in 50 years’ time, the same biographies will refer to the 2010s as the decade in which his status as one of Britain’s most significant 20th Century playwrights was well and truly restored. The Original Theatre Company’s touring production of Flare Path is the latest in a string of high-profile revivals that have made Rattigan, with all his dated dialogue and RP accents, fashionable again.

It’s the early 1940s and Britain’s bombing campaign on Nazi Germany is at its peak. Hedydd Dylan stars as Patricia Warren, the showpiece wife of Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham (Daniel Fraser) and passionate lover of Hollywood film star Peter Kyle (Lynden Edwards). All three are ensconced in a chintzy Lincolnshire hotel, as the bombers drone in and out of the nearby RAF aerodrome and the threat of airmen not returning home looms large overhead.

The elegance of Rattigan’s play, which truly impacts in its latter stages, is in its subtle opposition of individuals, attitudes and morals. Fraser’s Teddy is every inch the upright, joshing RAF captain, putting on a brave face for his men and determined to do his bit for King and Country. Edwards’ Peter is his antithesis, a languorous, laconic movie star to whom the war is but another item on the nine o’clock news. Caught between them is Dylan’s Patricia, a flighty actress torn between romance and loyalty, between passion and duty.

All three – Dylan, Fraser and Edwards – deliver competent, assured performances. Acting in a climate of restraint and repression, they manage to slowly eke out an emotional story that truly engrosses. One can see how Patricia’s feeling’s for Teddy shift from boredom to compassion, how Teddy struggles to maintain his façade of indomitable Britishness, and how Peter slowly realises how unimportant he really is in a world at war. It’s delicate, but remarkably powerful, stuff.

They are well-supported by a motley supporting cast of airmen, working wives and grumpy landladies. Claire Andreadis is charming as local girl Doris, Audrey Palmer is amusing as the gruff hotel-owner Mrs Oakes, and William Reay is equally funny as a Polish Flying Officer with a poor grasp of English but a heart of gold. Director Justin Audibert conducts this orchestra well, imbuing the piece with an unfussy, unhurried air that complements Rattigan’s graceful dialogue well

There is undoubtedly a certain demographic that is attracted to Rattigan for a dose of wartime nostalgia – the night this reviewer saw Flare Path, he was a good half-century younger than the average age of the audience – but this should not fool one into thinking Rattigan’s play has nothing important to say. Underlying the crackly swing music, the chummy banter and the quintessentially English attitude to emotion, is a stimulating discussion on love, on courage, and on responsibility. The Original Theatre Company’s faithful revival of Flare Path is much, much more than a museum piece.

Runs until 6 February 2016 | Image: Jack Ladenburg

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