Flare Path (Richmond Theatre)

I hadn’t come across The Original Theatre Company before but I read they have been putting on shows for eight years, and I do like a bit of Rattigan, so this was a ‘must-see’ at Richmond this week: after this week it continues on tour.

Terence Rattigan’s ‘Flare Path’ was only professionally revived in 2011 after quite a while in the wilderness, and at that point it had a rather starry cast with Sienna Miller, James Purefoy, and Sheridan Smith.  This time around we have a couple of familiar faces from television – the very, very good Philip Franks (of ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘The Darling Buds of May’) as Squadron Leader ‘Gloria’ Swanson, and Leon Ockenden (Mr Selfridge’s Russian) as Hollywood idol Peter Kyle (who is fine in a part which has to go from rather unsympathetic to something different and take the audience with him).

A lesser-spotted cast often makes a fine play, and so it proves here.  I’d been familiar with some of this production from the reworked plot which appeared in the film ‘The Way to the Stars’, but much was different in the original, which largely focuses on a love triangle between Kyle, Flight Lieut Teddy Graham (played by company artistic director Alastair Whatley, whose portrayal of the flyer my audience companion referred to as ‘Tim Nice But Dim’), and Graham’s glamourpuss wife Patricia Warren, actress and secret adultress (played by Olivia Hallinan, brittle as glass).

On the fringes are Rattigan’s beautifully drawn character parts – Jonnny the Polish count (Adam Best, who I remember seeing in the film ‘Cup Cake’, impressive then as here) and his slightly common but caring wife Doris (Siobhan O’Kelly, convincingly portrayed), ‘Dusty’ Miller the gunner (Simon Darwen, a good piece of comic relief) and his laundress wife Maudie (Shvorne Marks, good in a part which could have been written for a Thora Hird type); hotel manageress Mrs Oakes (Stephanie Jacobs, rather wonderful in her disapproving bustle), and waiter Percy (James Cooney, lots of fun).

This is a fine revival, with its one set and four acts, its aerodrome with the idea of flights using light and sound design, and a beautiful script peppered with cinematic references (‘do you know Dorothy Lamour’, ‘have you met Alice Faye’) and some real knockout moments (notably a translated letter).  The character of Patricia may be overacted, but I feel that is deliberate, and Hallinan handles the contradiction well,

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