THEATRE REVIEW: Flare Path: Terence Rattigan

August 19, 2015


Flare Path

Terence Rattigan

Devonshire Park Theatre


Celebrating the 70th anniversary of VE day Flare Path paints an evocative portrait of life in wartime Britain for the RAF bomber crews, their wives and sweethearts, who were left awaiting their return. Based on Rattigan’s experiences as a tail gunner during World War II and set in 1942 against a backdrop of heartache and quiet bravery, it’s a stiff upper lip poignant tale of doing the right thing and making the very best of every moment.

Flare Path tells the story of former actress Patricia, the wife of RAF pilot Teddy, as their marriage is tested to the limits by the surprise arrival of Patricia’s ex-lover and Hollywood idol Peter Kyle. A dangerous mission over Germany for her husband puts Patricia at the center of an emotional conflict as unpredictable as the war in the skies.

Leon Ockenden and Olivia Hallinan in FLARE PATH (photo Jack Ladenburg)

A leading Hollywood man, a screen throb and swoon inducing world-famous movie star would have at least some charisma and raw masculine beauty but unfortunately this was not the case with the leading man Leon Ockenden although he was pretty enough and pleasing to the eye but his acting was also uninspiring, however the character is supposed to be vain, self-deluded, insecure, and self-obsessed and shallow so perhaps we should extend the benefit of the doubt for this performance. Olivia Hallinan as air force sweetheart Patricia handles the conflict and realisation of the growth of care in her relationship with a tender realism, Siobhan O’Kelly as Doris the Countess does brassy brave northern gritty glamour girl with bravado and turns the play around with her silent acceptance of her husband’s death,  it was a lovely theatrical moment and possibly one of the finest Rattigan moments I’ve seen on stage.

The rest of cast were good although often playing the supporting characters for laughs, but perhaps this in the intention of Director Justin Audibert; making the most of the clipped understated dialogue with as much emotive pressure as possible in this play and the teasing out of the stoic make-do-and-mend sense of humour. At its heart it is about duty and the silent carrying out of it, in all different ways, in big public ways and small intimate moments and it succeed in making the various love interests, pressures and conflicts of the couples in the play seem vivid and engaging.

Olivia Hallinan and Leon Ockenden in FLARE PATH (photo Jack Ladenburg)

I’m not a fan of Rattigan, nor of Bomber Command and their notorious activities during the war, but this is not the ground of the narrative and it’s worth putting aside any political post war thoughts and see this play for what it is: a wartime play, written during the war, by a fighting man, about the way war changes everything. This is a fine play, well written with some dramatic touches which, over time, have become less florid and faded down into really affecting and touching moments of honest hesitant un-British declaration. It’s unusual to see a play with deception as its narrative force which deals with tender unsaid honesty so well but Rattigan nails it here and it’s exactly Rattigan’s mercilessly tender examination of the British attitude of stiff upper lip and repressed emotion that makes this play such a pleasure to watch.

To see more on this play and its current tour, click here:

Leon Ockenden, Olivia Hallinan, Siobhán O'Kelly, Philip Franks, Shvorne Marks in FLARE PATH (photo Jack Ladenburg)

The set is cosy and warm, evocative of a hotel lobby in some coastal Lincolnshire town, the costumes mostly touch perfect and bringing a sense of occasion to the characters and their motives. The lighting and sound ambiance was managed very well and effective in bringing up the sense of background action and off stage drama that would have been a constant hum during wartime, sound designer Dominic Bilkey did a grand job  setting the atmosphere just right.

All in all this was a pleasant evening out at this charming theater; it really is a lovely venue, comfortable, charming, with a reasonably priced bar, free parking directly outside!       In the hurry to make it to the show on time i left my keys in the door of the car, parked just to one side of the theatre, when i returned, in a little worry, some hours later there was my car, untouched, keys still dangling in the door, you gotta love Eastbourne it’s certainly living its values. 

You can’t fault this for an evening out of the bustle of Brighton and Flare Path is a competent exercise in nostalgic restoration which holds this solid play up to the light, and finds no real fault with it,  runs it with a mostly enthusiastic cast who gave us a few hours of solid engaging entertainment. 

Flare Path

Runs until August 29

The Devonshire Park Theater,  Chiswick Place, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4BJ

For more info or to book tickets, click here: