Written, set and performed at the height of World War II, Flare Path was inspired by the real life experiences of playwright Terence Rattigan, who served as a tail gunner in the RAF. Playing at The REP until Saturday 30 April, Justin Audibert’s touring version gloriously retains the authenticity of this triumphant and engaging glimpse into wartime.
All of the action takes place in the reception area of The Falcon Hotel, which sits adjacent to an RAF airbase and follows the story of a group of men who are planning to spend the weekend with their wives when the arrival of a last-minute mission and a Hollywood movie star complicates things somewhat.
A beautifully constructed set brings the audience right into the room with the performers, while the snappiness of Rattigan’s script ensures the action moves on at pace and some clever technical effects reproduce the parallel strips of an aerodrome flare path. Lynden Edwards owns the stage as the charming, if slightly conceited star, Peter Kyle, who arrives to tell his former co-star and lover Patricia, now married to RAF pilot Teddy, that he still loves her. Patricia resolves to tell her husband she plans to leave him, but when Teddy and his team are called away on a mission everything changes.
Hedydd Dylan is a slightly young Patricia, but poignantly captures the struggle between old flame and loyalty to her husband, while Daniel Fraser shines as Teddy, whose stiff upper lip and strutting banter with the boys masks his hatred for flying and combat. The play’s pivotal scene where he confesses his ‘low moral fibre’ to Patricia is beautifully acted by both.
Meanwhile Claire Andreadis steals the show as the dotty Doris, a waitress married to a Polish pilot serving with the RAF who just happens to be a Count. She switches masterfully between happy-go-lucky ditz and concerned wife when the Count, played with intelligence and humour by William Reay, doesn’t return with the other boys. Good support comes from Jamie Hogarth as Teddy’s loyal tail gunner Dusty Miller and his delightfully daft wife Maudie (Polly Hughes).
There's a very moving juxtaposition which typifies wartime life. One where men drink beer one minute, fly deathly, emotionally-scarring missions the next and drink beer again the next. It’s more than just a play; it's a slice of history, a moment in time that's no doubt every bit as believable and moving as it would have been when it premièred in 1942.
It's also masterfully subtle; not a lot happens but at the same time everything does. It’s a story about the everyday but the extraordinary, of love and loss, of camaraderie but above all about the absurd horror of war and the quiet bravery of those fighting it.
The story is poignant in places, nostalgic throughout and as wholesome as something The Falcon’s dowdy hotelier Mrs Oakes (Audrey Palmer) might cook up.
More than 70 years on director Justin Audibert and his team have helped Rattigan’s script to shine once more in this beautiful revival.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.