Writer: Terrence Rattigan
Director: Justin Audibert
Reviewer: Laura Jayne Bateman
Written in 1941, Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path premiered in August 1942 at the Apollo Theatre, London. Initially rejected by producers, who believed the British public wouldn’t wish to see a play about the war, it was a critical and commercial success and was revived in the West End in 2011. This new touring production from The Original Theatre Company has plenty of heart but is an oddly lacklustre affair, exposing the datedness of Rattigan’s script while failing to fully pack an emotional punch.
Set entirely in the lounge of a small country hotel in Lincolnshire, the play follows three members of the RAF over one weekend. The hotel is situated close to an aerodrome and the men have invited their wives to stay, unaware that they are to be sent out on a raid that evening. No-nonsense Sergeant Dusty Miller (Jamie Hogarth) is married to the flustered Maudie (Polly Hughes); gallant Flying Officer Count Skriczevinsky (William Reay) is married to West Country barmaid Doris (Claire Andreadis); and boyish, buoyant Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham (Daniel Fraser) is soon to celebrate his first anniversary with his actress wife Patricia (Hedydd Dylan). The arrival of Patricia’s lover, matinee idol Peter Kyle (Lynden Edwards), with whom she intends to elope creates romantic tensions to match the apprehension as the men head out on their mission.
Rattigan’s script often feels dated, particularly in his treatment of the rather underwritten female characters; they are threatened with spanking, ‘clips round the ear’, described as hen-peckers and generally ordered about, and Patricia’s decision to end her acting career to ensure the success of her marriage does little for the notion that women can have it all. Where Rattigan, himself an RAF officer, excels is in his presentation of the camaraderie and uncertainty of life in the air force. His exploration of the mental strain placed on young officer Teddy in the second act is the highlight of the production.
This is also thanks to Fraser’s superb performance, beautifully disintegrating from a jovial, cocksure subaltern to a frightened, battle-scarred young man. There is also solid work from Andreadis as the insecure new Countess and Graham Seed as Squadron Leader Swanson. Audrey Palmer as landlady Mrs Oakes and Emma Carter as maid Betty demonstrate strong comic timingwhile Hogarth engages as non-commissioned officer Miller.
The production fares less well in its depiction of the relationship between Patricia and Peter. Both characters are selfish, snobbish and not particularly likeable; the success of a play like Flare Path hinges on the audience’s conflict between investing in the central love story but also supporting the unsuspecting third point of the triangle, but here one spends much of Patricia’s and Peter’s scenes together wishing them ill. Braver direction from Justin Audibert is necessary here, although the lighting design from Alex Wardle injects much-needed bursts of energy. Hayley Grindle’s costumes are period authentic for the men, if rather uninspired for the women, although her set is sleekly efficient.
Flare Path is a play which creaks slightly with age, particularly in its treatment of female, working-class and non-British characters. The lack of dramatic tension in the relationship between the central characters compromises the emotional undercurrent of Rattigan’s script, and despite a stand-out performance from Daniel Fraser, this is a serviceable rather than truly moving production.
Runs until 30 April 2016 | Image:Jack Ladenburg