Flare Path

Terrence Rattigan
The Original Theatre Company
Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford

The action takes place during World War II in the residents’ lounge of a Lincolnshire hotel, and the conflicts of war are played out between three married couples, one ex-lover, and the (somewhat depleted) hotel staff.

The lounge overlooks the Flare Path where Wellington bombers take off on their missions to destroy the enemy, and one of the main themes of the play is the tension and anxiety when the men go off on a bombing raid and the fear that they might never return.

The play focuses mainly on the the three women who are left behind with their fear and apprehension, but another main theme is the love triangle between actress Patricia Warren, a husband she hardly knows and a former lover, a Hollywood matinée idol whose star is waning and who now wants her back in his life. She is torn between the two men each saying how much they need her. Will morality and duty win or will love conquer all?

Leon Ockenden is film star Peter Kyle, flashing his money about as frequently as he employs his false smile. Self-centred and sure of his charm (the other guests are thrilled to meet him) his worthlessness is pointedly accentuated when the airmen come back exhausted from a terrifyingly dangerous bombing raid. “I’ve had the worst morning of my life,” he says, ignoring their problems. No contest Patricia I would have said!

Cool and controlled at the start, Olivia Hallinan’s Patricia comes into her own when she discovers that her husband is not as infallible as he seemed. In spite of the praise heaped on him by the men under his command, Alastair Whatley’s Flight Lieutenant Graham (Teddy) is uncertain of his abilities, sure he is a coward at heart and even with the stress making him ill is determined to do his duty. Here, Hallinan morphs nicely and very credibly into a caring and loving wife.

The other two couples are a Cockney husband and wife, constantly bickering happily, and a barmaid who has married a Polish count. Siobhan O’Kelly as Countess Skriczevinsky (or Doris) carries her title lightly, being more concerned with looking after her husband and teaching him English, his pronunciation and mix-ups causing some tension-relieving comedy.

There is, surprisingly, some light relief too from an adorably avuncular Philip Franks as Squadron Leader Swanson (known as Gloria), concerned and anxious for the men he has to send into danger.

Stephanie Jacob is also amusing as the motherly landlady Mrs. Oakeswho is very fond of "her boys" and looks after them as best she can. I was rather upset though to see the bacon and eggs breakfast (or was it sausages) buried in the garden when she had gone to such trouble to get it.

Although performances are very good, there is no real time to get into the depths of each character and I found I could not fully engage with them, or care as I ought to have done, but full marks to Dominic Bilkey for some frighteningly realistic sound effects. I swear many of the audience ducked when the bombers were taking off overhead.

Rattigan was out of favour for some time, audiences preferring the everyday reality of the "kitchen sink" style of drama. With the fickleness of fashion, he is now back in favour and new audiences are discovering that his plays are very worthwhile, very watchable and very emotional, set firmly in their time and beautifully crafted. Well worth a visit.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor