flare path

Leon Ockenden as actor Peter Kyle and Olivia Hallinan as Teddy's actress wife Patricia Graham in Flare Path. Picture: Jack Ladenburg

Flare Path

Malvern Theatres

*****

IN THE week when they are nationally commemorating the Battle of Britain and the amazing achievement of Britain’s fighter pilots, Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path reflects the life and pressures of the bomber crews later in the same conflict.

The hotel adjoining the airfield at Milchester is the setting for this play, a place to which members of the bomber crews resort for time to relax, drink, eat and mingle, or even to spend a night with their wives.

The play explores the drama of a night when the crews are called out at the last minute for a sortie over the Rhineland, thereby disrupting their social life.

We meet three couples principally, and various other individuals, but the primary couple are Flight Lieutenant Graham (Teddy) and his actress wife Patricia whose relationship is threatened with disaster by the affair Patricia had previously been conducting with a glamorous actor called Peter Kyle. Patricia is proposing to comply with Peter Kyle’s wishes and leave Teddy for him and a new life together.

When the four bombers take off, one aircraft meets disaster on take-off. Another does not make it back successfully. A third returns despite major damage to its fuselage. These events in the background create huge emotional pressures for the waiting wives, and the crew back at base represented primarily by the Squadron Leader Swanson.

Out of this cauldron of tension and emotional trauma, Teddy and Patricia discover things about themselves and each other that change them forever. They will never be the same again. The measure of unreality and superficiality in their earlier relationship is exposed and displaced in favour of a sincerity and reality on which their future can be securely based.

This play explores aspects of courage and bravery and illustrates how bravery is not the absence of fear but the overcoming thereof. The play combines tension, optimism and humour in a very poignant way. The humour provided principally by the Squadron Leader and Mrs Oates, the hotel manager is a brilliant antidote to the intensity of the more emotional scenes.

This production does an excellent job of bringing the characters and their situations alive. There is a range of characters and relationships, spanning the social worlds of the very 'hearty fellow’ from the more privileged background to the very down-to-earth barmaid Doris and the blunt Mrs Oates.

The design of the show presents us with a steeply raked stage: the effect of this is to bring the large window upstage with the curtains that are periodically drawn, closer to the audience. This window looks upon the airfield and the ‘flare path’ created to help the pilots take-off and land safely at night. Along with the strong sound effects this brings us an immediacy of the airfield and the aircraft that we cannot directly see.

The acting is of a very high standard. Philip Franks (Squadron Leader Swanson) and Stephanie Jacob (Mrs Oates) provide great humour with their excellent timing and physical control to portray richly enjoyable characters.

Alastair Whatley (Teddy) provides a very strong characterisation with balance and depth; his emotional breakdown contrasts cleverly and convincingly with his generally hearty leadership and social charm.

These outstanding performances are supported by an excellent team that all contribute to a very high standard of acting. Leon Ockenden as the famous actor Peter Kyle and Olivia Hallinan complete the love triangle, Siobhan O’Kelly (Doris) and Adam Best (Flying Officer Count Scriczevinsky) portray a very loving coupe without undue sentimentality.

Terence Rattigan was a member of the RAF during the war and this play reflects his direct personal experience. The play takes a while to wind up but the second half was brilliant and this excellent production deserves to play to full houses over the coming week. To 19-09-19

Tim Crow

15-09-15

Flare Path returns to the Midlands at  Coventry Belgrade 3-7 November.

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