Passion, pride and loyalty
Theatre review by Henry Ascoli
Flare Path, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
An immense battle waged in the skies above, an emotional conflict commencing below… passion, pride and loyalty.
This highly-charged production paints a vivid picture of life in Second World War Britain, delivering drama and emotion in equal measure and truly immersing the audience in the action.
Penned by Terence Rattigan, and based on his experiences as a World War Two tail gunner, Flare Path first took to the stage in 1942, immediately capturing the hearts of the nation with its patriotic portrayal of wartime Britain.
At the heart of the action, set in a Lincolnshire Hotel near an RAF bomber command base, is a compelling love triangle. Glamorous actress Patricia finds herself torn between her loyalty to her husband, RAF pilot Teddy, and her lingering desire for former lover and Hollywood idol Peter Kyle, who arrives out of the blue, desperate to take her back.
But when Teddy and his RAF bomber crew is summoned to the skies, Patricia is among the wives and sweethearts waiting and worrying back home, eager for any news of a safe return, yet painfully aware of the imminent dangers faced by the men.
As the fight for the skies intensifies, so too does Patricia’s emotional battle, as she is forced to confront her fears and unite her divided loyalties at last…
The attention to detail is evident at every turn in this production, from the finely-crafted script, to the beautiful stage and the authentic costumes, contributing to its strong sense of authenticity.
Yet throughout the show, there is always a sense of anticipation, especially where the love triangle is concerned, as if tension is bubbling beneath the surface, ready to break free at any moment.
When such moments fail to arrive, it is the quality of acting which ultimately prevails, another aspect of the production which could hardly be faulted.
Olivia Hallinan proves a perfect fit for the role of Patricia, capturing her air of elegance and the pendulum swing of her emotions throughout.
Alastair Whatley delivers an accurate, at times heart-rending portrayal, of Flight Lieutenant Graham (Teddy), whose devotion to both the war cause and his wife knows no bounds.
Leon Ockenden (Peter) struggles to settle into his stride, perhaps seeking to create an air of mystery around his character, but shows greater conviction during the second act, when Peter’s fragile core is brutally exposed.
Philip Franks is another fine casting as the somewhat bumbling but fiercely patriotic Squadron Leader Swanson, and there remain shades of his best-known role as ‘Charlie’ in Darling Buds of May as he bounds around the stage with Great British enthusiasm.
Adam Best revels in the role of fearless Polish Flying Officer Count Skriczevinsky – ‘Johnnie’ – whose broken English provides a source of humour, but his character serves to highlight the vital contribution of those from across Europe in the allied effort.
Simon Darwen (Sergeant Miller), and Siobhan O’Kelly (Countess Skriczevinsky – Doris) both make the most of their respective roles, the plucky tail gunner and graceful forces sweetheart.
On one level, this is a carefully-crafted depiction of wartime Britain, seen through the eyes of experience. On another, it is a probing study of love, its power to overcome adversity and shape every aspect of human behaviour.
A worthy revival of a powerful play.
Flare Path plays on the main stage at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday 28th November. To book tickets and find out more, call 01483 440000 or visit www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk