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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
FLARE PATH
at Haymarket

THE WELL-MADE PLAY
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Joe Armstrong, Clive Wood, Mark Dexter and Harry Hadden-Paton/ Ph: Johan Persson

Strange how, over the years, certain theatrical values have changed. Take “the well-made play.” Instead of being something to admire and applaud, it’s now become a pejorative. A recent victim of this was Lillian Hellman’s 1935 drama The Children’s Hour, whose intrinsic skill and craftsmanship has, in the main, been derided as old-fashioned or creaky. Or both.
 
The same criticism, I suppose, could (and has been) leveled at the work of Terence Rattigan in general and Flare Path in particular. Written in 1942, there is an almost schematic, mathematical conciseness about its construction. The plot unfurls with exemplary neatness, characters develop in bite-sized chunks at carefully chosen moments, dramatic momentum builds at just the right pace, and you leave the theatre in no doubt at all that you’ve had full value for your money. In other words all the qualities of the well-made play are present and correct.
 
It’s unfashionable and retrograde to say so – but please, oh please, give me more of the same. This is one of the very best evenings the West End currently has to offer.
 
It takes place over a weekend in 1941, is set in the lounge of a hotel-cum-bar of The Falcon Hotel near an RAF bomber base in Lincolnshire and centres around an impromptu night-time air raid over Germany by three airmen whose wives anxiously await their safe return. Juxtaposed against this long night’s journey into day is an uneasy romantic triangle involving Teddy (Harry Hadden-Paton), a seemingly jokey and carefree young bomber pilot; his actress wife Patricia (Sienna Miller); and an aging Hollywood star called Peter Kyle (James Purefoy), who once had an affair with Patricia, is still in love with her, and has returned to England with one purpose only: to break up her marriage and marry her himself.
 
Driven more by character than plot, the play draws tension and suspense from both these slender narrative strands while, with dazzling theatrical sleight of hand, slowly but impeccably strips its protagonists of their glib facades to reveal the inner pain, anguish and turmoil festering within. My only concern, and it’s quite a big one, is the play’s ending.
 
Both Noel Coward and the original producer, Binkie Beaumont, felt it was wrong – and I agree with them. But Rattigan refused to change it and, despite some carping reviews, he was probably right, for the play was an enormous box-office success and ran for 18 months at the Apollo in Shaftesbury Avenue.
 
Because this current revival is restricted to a limited run, history is unlikely to repeat itself. Though given the brilliance of Trevor Nunn’s direction, a stand-out performance from Sheridan Smith as a feisty barmaid, excellent work from Miller, Purefoy and Hadden-Paton in other leading roles, notch this production up as a classy triumph.
 
Super supporting performances from Sarah Crowden as the Falcon’s crusty landlady, Joe Armstrong as a young gunner, Mark Dexter as a Polish count, Emma Handy as his humorless wife, Matthew Tennyson as a teenage barman, Clive Wood as Squadron Leader Swanson (known as Gloria), and an evocative set and costumes from Stephen Brimson-Lewis contribute to a marvelously nostalgic and moving night out.
 


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