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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
FLARE PATH
at the Haymarket

EMOTIONAL ARMOURY
By CLAIRE ALLFREE

  Sienna Miller and Harry Hadden-Paton/ Ph: Johan Persson

That famous English reserve was always Terence Rattigan’s favoured dramatic territory, as last year’s revival of After The Dance so perfectly demonstrated, and as, no doubt, will the many more Rattigan revivals scheduled during this, his centenary year.

What makes Flare Path so fascinating, and ultimately so shattering in this first London revival since its 1942 premiere, is not just the way Rattigan shows the impact of extraordinary pressure on his cast of mainly working class characters, used to concealing their feelings behind thick-plated layers of cheeky chappy good humour, but the way he depicts this emotional armoury as a sort of fortitude rather than weakness.

This is no stark portrait of the brittle carapaces behind which Rattigan characters hide in plays such as After The Dance and The Deep Blue Sea, but, in Trevor Nunn’s luxurious revival, an almost jubilant celebration of a certain English resilience. At the same time, it’s almost unbearably moving.

Of course, Rattigan was paying tribute to his fellow airmen in Bomber Command during World War II, whose real life experiences in the air and on the ground so poignantly inform it. It’s set throughout in the same living room in an aspirational (but also fairly seedy) hotel run by the amusingly appalling Mrs Oakes, close to the Lincolnshire airstrip, where each night the pilots and their wives gather to drink away the horrors of the day. Enter a suave English actor, Peter Kyle (James Purefoy), who is hoping to reignite his whirlwind love affair with fellow actress Patricia Field (Sienna Miller), now married to Captain Teddy Graham. Patricia, played with just the right degree of strain by Miller, is torn between her love for the glamourous Kyle and her affectionate sense of duty (both marital and patriotic) towards her husband.

Nunn’s production barely puts a foot wrong. Purefoy beautifully betrays the smug celebrity but also the panicked egoism of a fading matinee idol whose career is on the wane, and whose star status leaves him hovering in rather lonely fashion on the outside of the collective sense of war effort that binds the airmen and their wives. Harry Hadden-Paton exudes a seeming Teflon-coated gutsy good cheer as the unflappable Teddy until he abruptly breaks down in gusts of weeping terror and admits to his wife he can’t stand flying. Emma Handy puts in a lovely performance as Dusty’s wife Maud, whose hen-pecking manner and tightly pursed mouth can’t disguise her dogged refusal to be brought down by the war nor her marrow deep love for her husband.

The real, undeniable star of the evening, however, is Sheridan Smith’s Doris, a former barmaid and now a countess by virtue of her marriage to a Polish count with negligible English skills and who combines an East End brassiness with an enormous heart that at one point comes perilously close to breaking. Nunn avoids tipping the play into melodrama while conveying a very real sense of the shadow cast by the odds the airmen face each time they fly, and also brings out the play’s determination to look at a quietly heroic brand of Englishness without resorting either to patriotism or to cynicism. If the remaining Rattigan revivals come anywhere close to being as good, it’s going to be a terrific year.

 


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