Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Justin Audibert
Reviewer: James Garrington
Originally produced in 1942, Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path offers a contemporary view of life during some of the darkest times in our history. It is set in a dowdy hotel adjacent to a Bomber Command airbase, where crews can relax and wives and sweethearts can stay; the story revolves around the lives of those left behind when their men are out on missions.
Actress Patricia (Olivia Hallinan) is married to pilot Teddy (Alastair Whatley), and her emotions are torn when ex-lover Peter Kyle, a fading Hollywood matinée idol, (Leon Ockenden) turns up to reclaim her. Two other wives are also in the hotel – cheerfully stoic barmaid Doris (Siobhan O’Kelly), married to a Polish count who is also a pilot; and bewildered Maudie (Shvorne Marks), married to a rear-gunner. An unexpected late-night mission takes the three husbands away, and their wives are left behind to wait.
This was a time of British stiff upper lip, and Rattigan’s script is full of typical understatement. Rattigan is writing here about the difference between what people say and what they feel, and the repressed emotions that are stereotypically British – and here lies one of the main difficulties with this sort of piece. This is a script with several layers, and we never really get to see below the surface. While it may seem to be all about stoicism, beneath that is a whole depth of emotion that really needs to be apparent too, and this production just fails to get there. There seems to be a lack of emotional connection between the cast and the material focussing more on the surface than any subtext.
Hallinan works well on the whole as Patricia, with a good sense of anxiety as she finds herself torn between which of her two men to choose though we never quite get to see the depth of her feelings when she makes her choice. Whatley’s Teddy is admirably full of bonhomie and gung-ho, and very credible as the brave RAF pilot. He doesn’t quite deliver in one of the key scenes in the play, though, as he breaks down and pours out his fear to Patricia, suddenly turning off his tears and despair in a way that seems hardly credible. In the third corner of the love triangle is Ockenden as Peter Kyle, who claims that he’d do whatever it takes to win Patricia, yet one never really feels the passion that would imply. The moment when he has to choose whether or not to reveal their affair to her husband just fizzles out.
Siobhan O’Kelly is, on the whole, excellent as barmaid-cum-countess Doris, with a great sense of good humour in hard times. Of them all, she is the one who you can feel has something bubbling away below the surface though you can’t help hoping for a little more emotion when she discovers the degree of her husband’s feelings for her. There is also some fine supporting work from Philip Franks as the cheery Squadron Leader forced to send people off on near-fatal missions, and Marks as a wife who, although matter-of-fact about being bombed out of her home, still can’t understand why her husband has to fly on the one night she has with him.
The production is played on a well thought-out set designed by Hayley Grindle, allowing the action to be focussed towards the audience. The lighting (Alex Wardle) complements it well, achieving some good effects.
Overall this is not a bad production, but Rattigan’s script – slightly dated though it is – contains far more depth than is apparent here.
Runs until 7 November 2015 | Image: Jack Ladenburg