REVIEW: Flare Path, Richmond Theatre (UK Tour) ✭✭✭

Last Updated on 16th February 2019

Flare Path UK Tour
Leon Ockenden and Olivia Hallinan in Flare Path. Photo: Jack Ladenburg

Flare Path
The Richmond Theatre
2nd September 2015
3 Stars
Book Tickets

The Original Theatre Company’s touring production of Flare Path embellishes an already busy decade for Rattigan’s plays. Since 2010, After the Dance, Cause Celebre, The Browning Version, The Winslow Boy and Flare Path itself have had successful runs in the West End, and the Terence Rattigan Society was founded in 2011 to celebrate the playwright’s works. They are, as the programme notes observe, “firmly rooted in the times in which they were written [and] remain as true and emotionally engaging as at the time of their composition”. Flare Path was written in 1941, and its emotional engagement centres on the fears and frustrations that derive from an interminable war, seen through the eyes of three married couples.

Flare Path takes place in the Residents’ Lounge of a Lincolnshire Hotel. The arrival of Anglo-American matinee idol Peter Kyle (Leon Ockenden) sends waves of excitement through the guests, not least the actress Patricia Graham (Olivia Hanninan). The wife of Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham (Alistair Whatley), a pilot at the nearby RAF base, Patricia fell in love with Peter when they worked on a play together. They remained in love after her marriage, and resolved to run away together after a reunion in London. Yet their plans are scuppered by Squadron Leader Swanson (Philip Franks) announcing an unscheduled bombing mission, which Teddy and fellow RAF fighters Count Skriczevinsky (Adam Best) and ‘Dusty’ Miller (Simon Darwen) must undertake. As Patricia waits anxiously with Doris Skriczevinsky (Siobhan O’Kelly) and Maudie Miller (Shvorne Marks) for their husbands’ return, she begins to have second thoughts, which are brought to an apex by the mission’s aftermath.

Flare Path UK Tour
Leon Ockenden, Olivia Hallinan, Siobhan O’Kelly, Philip Franks, Shvorne Marks in Flare Path. Photo: Jack ladenburg

One of the production’s great strengths was its ambiance, pervaded by anxiety in spite of the hotel’s comfortable surroundings. Hayley Grindle’s homely set was a perfectly realised haven for the airmen and civilian residents, save for the large bay window which offered glimpses into the mission’s unsteady progress. The window was the focal point of Act 2’s blackout scenes, at times heavily lit and curtained, and at others bathed in a cool twilight. This contrast made for a compellingly purgatorial atmosphere, heightened by euphemistic dialogue which treats the mission – “a do” – as not quite real. It is as if the sky represents an alternate plane of existence which, as Percy the barman (James Cooney) hints in Act 3, we can choose to believe holds little danger. Then, when the harsh realities of war are laid bare, we are compelled to unpick the coping mechanisms of fighters and their loved ones alike – a fascinating and deeply involving process.

Patricia’s realisation that her affair with Peter is “tiny and rather cheap” compared to the war effort encapsulates the production’s only serious weakness. It is difficult to find much sympathy with Peter Kyle, and one questions why she didn’t have this revelation sooner. Ockenden does well to capture the emptiness at Kyle’s core, the corrupted heart of a fading actor, preoccupied with his own existence. Yet his smug, sometimes petulant behaviour with the other guests dilutes any aura of stardom, and his air of entitlement regarding Patricia’s affections makes us root wholeheartedly for Teddy.

Flare Path Uk Tour
Siobhan O’Kelly and Leon Ockenden in Flare Path. Photo Jack Ladenburg

Indeed, Patricia’s warm interactions with her husband in Act 1 perhaps mask their marital problems too fully, and coupled with Hanninan and Ockenden’s inconsistent chemistry her attachment to Peter often proves frustrating. These tensions are however addressed by both actors in latter half of the play. Patricia’s impassioned plea for Teddy to see a doctor after his post-mission breakdown is beautifully judged by Hanninan, at once tender and terrified. In turn, Peter translating a letter from Count Skriczevinsky to Doris is conveyed by Ockenden as the catalyst for a revelation about his behaviour – his voice is injected with new found empathy, and he carries an air of quiet introspection. Though it is not quite enough to give closure to Peter and Patricia’s relationship, these scenes lend pathos to the inevitable resolution of the love triangle.

Alistair Whatley’s Teddy is the standout performance; a flawed and likeable hero to his men. Rattigan’s script contains a little too much character schilling for my liking – the regular descriptions of Teddy’s competence and trustworthiness reflect badly on Peter Kyle – but Whatley does a tremendous job of counterbalancing this with hints of his self-loathing and fear, which come to light at the end of Act 2. Simon Darwen and Philip Franks are also terrific as Miller and Squadron Leader Swanson. Miller’s air of perpetual irritation fails to conceal his affection for his wife – touchingly portrayed by Shvorne Marks – and his resignation to his new life is mediated by a strong sense of duty. The Squadron Leader risks appearing as a somewhat impotent figure – not being a pilot himself – but Franks is both self-deprecating and comforting, constantly striving to do right by the surrogate children in his charge and make the best of a damnable situation. Siobhan O’Kelly is a good-hearted and resilient Doris, who conveys the full weight of passion for her husband in spite of the latter’s minimal stage time, and Stephanie Jacob is a joy as prickly landlady Mrs. Oakes, perpetually harangued but with a deep love for her residents.

Although Flare Path’s central love triangle can be more distracting than compelling, overall this is a fine production with a host of excellent performances and an admirably tense atmosphere. If the tour is coming to your area, then I certainly suggest checking it out.


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