by Terence Rattigan.
Tour to 28 November 2015.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 September at Richmond Theatre.
Revival of wartime success shows its quality, with many high-quality performances.
There’s a lot about tail-gunners in Flare Path, probably because playwright Terence Rattigan was one. While emotions wash around and working-class comedy abounds, the tail-gunner’s work, freezing or dodging bullets at the rear of a wartime plane, has the precision of experience in this combination of wartime tension and romantic drama, set near an RAF airfield in Lincolnshire
If no-one’s been writing them like that for some decades now, when they did, Rattigan wrote them better than most. A major element of his success lies in his structure; he knows exactly how long to sustain a situation, when to play-off comedy and emotion, and how to pick-up a strand of his characters’ stories and move it forward.
He springs surprises. It would have been usual to sacrifice the secondary love-interest to counterbalance a happy end in the main emotional triangle. And there’s a suitably working-class dispensability to Doris, whom people call ‘Countess’ for reasons gradually made clear.
A terrible fate seems certain for her husband, to offset the play’s hero Teddy Graham surviving a nervous near-breakdown. Then, matters seeming over, the playwright lets us hear what has happened to Doris’s husband, completely altering the mood.
On Hayley Grindle’s set, period-creating if compromised by touring needs (it tends to give up at the sides), Justin Audibert’s finely-cast production shows the play’s strengths. It’s period piece rather than a classic, and has neither the dramaturgical subtleties or pace of modern plays.
But performances by Siobhan O’Kelly as the cheery worker-Countess, Alastair Whatley’s heroic pilot and Adam Best’s Polish officer play the period without any scent of aspic, providing lightness alongside direct emotion.
Rattigan introduces debonair matinee idol Peter Kyle sympathetically, before plot and character gradually recast this film-actor who’s taken US Citizenship against Teddy’s dogged war effort, giving a powerful audience bias in the choice of Teddy’s wife Patricia, who plans to leave him and live with Kyle.
If British values needed further assertion, it’s found in the elderly Squadron Leader, to whom Philip Franks’ splendidly fresh performance imparts a brisk lightness suggesting underlying regret at having authority but little active role.
Peter Kyle: Leon Ockenden.
Patricia Warren: Olivia Hallinan.
Squadron Leader Swanson: Philip Franks.
Flying Officer Skriczevinsky: Adam Best.
Percy: James Cooney.
Sergeant Miller: Simon Darwen.
Mrs Dukes: Stephanie Jacob.
Mrs Miller: Shvorne Marks.
Countess Doris Skriczwvinsky: Siobhan O’Kelly.
Corporal Jones: William Reay.
Betty: Holly Smith.
Flight Lieutenant Graham: Alastair Whatley.
Director: Justin Audibert.
Designer/Costume: Hayley Grindle.
Lighting: Alex Wardle Charcoalblue LLP.
Sound: Dominic Bilkey.
Movement: Lucy Cullingford.
Voice/Dialect coach: Tim Charrington.
Military adviser: Tony Green.
Associate director: Jonny Kelly.
7-12 Sep Mon-Wed 7.30pm;Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Bath 01225 448844 www.theatreroyal.org.uk
15-19 Sep 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Malvern Festival Theatre 01684 892277 www.malvern-theatres.co.uk
22-26 Sep 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Northcott Theatre Exeter 01392 726363 www.exeternorthcott.co.uk
28 Sep-3 Oct 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
5-10 Oct 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.15pm Audio-described (+ Touch Tour) Thu 2.15pm & 7.30pm Salisbury Playhouse 01722 320333 www.salisburyplayhouse.com
12-17 Oct 7.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm; Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Winchester 01962 840440 www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk
19-24 Oct Mon; Wed-Sat 7.45pm; Tue 7pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich 01473 295900 www.wolseytheatre.co.uk
3-7 Nov 7.45pm; Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm; Captioned Fri Belgrade Theatre Coventry 024 7655 3055 www.belgrade.co.uk
9-14 Nov Tue; Thu-Sat 7.30pm; Wed 5.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm; Sat 2pm Liverpool Playhouse 0151 709 4776 www.everymanplayhouse.com
16-21 Nov 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Palace Theatre Southend-on-Sea 01702 351135 www.southendtheatres.org.uk
223-28 Nov Mon-Thu 7.45pm; Fri, Sat 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm. Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford 01483 440000 www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk