Flare Path, by The Original Theatre Company & Birdsong Productions Ltd
York Theatre Royal
Till Saturday, May 7 @ 7.30pm; matinees Thurs @ 2pm & Sat @ 2.30pm
On the surface, this production could not be more different from Brideshead Revisited, its predecessor on the Theatre Royal stage.
Although they are both set in the first half of the last century, Flare Path is written in a very traditional form and staged within a static set.
But the things that made Brideshead so impressive are still in evidence – the excellent use of lighting, and of sound effects, and (most importantly) a thoroughly talented cast.
It became fashionable, many years ago, to dismiss Terence Rattigan as dated, class-ridden and thoroughly out of touch – the kind of play parodied on Round The Horne by “Dame Celia Molestrangler and ageing juvenile, Binky Huckaback”.
More recently, people have come to realise that, although the frameworks of his plays may be rooted in the past, Rattigan’s insights into the emotions and motivations of his characters still hold true. This is very much the case with Flare Path.
Brittle and brave
Set in a small hotel on the edge of an airfield during World War II, the script crackles with RAF slang and wartime catchphrases as three couples – flight crew and their visiting wives – drink and laugh, and pretend that death may not be just around the corner.
This brittle facade is broken by a sudden recall to base for an overnight raid, and the fear that not all of the husbands may return.
As reality creeps in, we see the humanity beneath the brave faces – the privations of war, the strain it puts on relationships, and the effects of what we now know as PTSD. The relationships that remain at the end of the play are stronger, more grounded in reality.
Love can only survive so long on romantic gestures and stiff upper lips – for love to last, there must be honesty and a little unselfishness. Not a bad message to take away.
Graham Seed is wonderfully sympathetic as Squadron Leader “Gloria” Swanson, truly concerned about the welfare of his men and their families. Daniel Fraser (the clean cut, handsome hero, Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham) pitches his performance perfectly – the highs and the lows.
Hedydd Dylan impresses as his glamorous actress wife, Patricia Warren, standing out from the other wives with her noticeably more expensive outfits. The development of her character over the course of the play is utterly believable, and she carries the audience with her at every step.
Spanner in the works
Lynden Edwards is the potential spanner in the works of the Grahams’ marriage – screen heart-throb Peter Kyle. His sudden change from effortless charm to selfishness (“What a cad!” commented an audience member near me) is really quite chilling, and his partial redemption is a distinct relief.
Jamie Hogarth (Sergeant “Dusty” Miller) and Polly Hughes (his wife, Maudie) both bring a realism and depth to their marriage which go beyond the lines of the script. They can actually be played as quite antagonistic to each other, but this pairing had a genuine chemistry which was very believable.
The comic turns of Flying Officer Count Skriczevinsky (William Reay) and his English wife, Doris (Claire Andreadis) are so well-matched and warm that we find ourselves laughing with, not at, them.
The sudden insight into their relationship which we gain in Act Two is perfectly in keeping with the genuine affection with which they interact. William Reay’s broken English is particularly well done, especially in his retelling of his exploits later in the story.
The frosty stickler of a landlady, Mrs Oakes, is given humanity and an underlying sense of humour by Audrey Palmer, and Charlie G Hawkins makes the part of Percy, the rather tactless and enthusiastic young waiter, into a real comic gem.
The lighting and sound effects, especially the aeroplanes and flare path runway lights, are superbly done, and the radio chatter continues through the interval.
Deserves a full house
I must also mention the open fire in the hotel lounge, which was extremely realistic, dying down as the first act went on, blazing up again when a sheet of newspaper was held up to it – and was that really smoke coming from it? One member of the audience even took photos of it during the interval.
Unfortunately, the house was only half full for the performance, although very responsive with laughter and applause. This is a show which really deserves a full house – traditional, yes, and on the surface rather a period piece, but a thoroughly satisfying evening’s entertainment. The box office is only a phone call away…
The revamped Theatre Royal has excellent accessibility. I am told that there are now more wheelchair spaces in the auditorium, which is good to hear. My space was in the Dress Circle, from which I had a perfect view of the entire stage.
There are level-entrance automatic doors from the street, and I was greeted by a member of staff who fetched my tickets from the box office, and showed me how to get to my wheelchair space.
There are lifts to every level, as well as a platform lift to the mezzanine bar area next to the main foyer. Accessible loos are well signposted. There are lights illuminating each tread of the steps in the auditorium, and all signage is very clear and easy to see.
There are plenty of staff everywhere, who are happy to assist when needed.