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A CurtainUp London London Review
Flare Path

We've got to win this war somehow! God how Daily Mail! — Teddy
Flare Path
Sienna Miller as Patricia and Harry Hadden-Paton as Teddy (Photo: Johan Persson)
2011 is the centenary of Terence Rattigan's birth and we are getting some stunning revivals of his exceptionally well crafted plays. After the Dance won four Oliviers for Thea Sharrock's production at the National and now Trevor Nunn gives us Flare Path, Rattigan's play about the experience in the Royal Air Force in World War Two. Rattigan himself was in Coastal Command but not Bomber Command.

Set in a country hotel in the fens of Lincolnshire, Flare Path looks closely at the women waiting for their men to return from a bombing raid over Germany. Heightening the tension is that one RAF wife Patricia Warren (Sienna Miller) finds that her former lover and Hollywood film star Peter Kyle (James Purefoy) wants her to leave with him and has turned up at the hotel. Patricia married RAF pilot Teddy Graham (Harry Hadden-Paton) on the rebound from her affair with Kyle.

Just as the couples are ready to enjoy a weekend or a night together, a last minute operation is ordered for that evening. It is an atmospheric and nostalgic production, stuffed with RAF slang and reminiscent of the tensions of wartime when the life expectancy in Bomber Command was so low.

Rattigan establishes his characters well: Mrs Oakes the disapproving and brusque landlady (Sarah Crowden), Doris (Sheridan Smith) once the hotel barmaid, now married to a Polish RAF officer, Squadron Leader Swanson (Clive Wood) an experienced and older officer working at the base, Peter Kyle (James Purefoy) the handsome film star whose career is fading and who wishes he was more involved in the war. Then there is Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham, young and inexperienced with his beautiful wife Patricia and completely unaware that his wife is about to leave him. Joe Armstrong plays Sergeant Miller the flight gunner whose wife Maudie (Emma Handy) is anxious and socially underconfident.

Trevor Nunn's productions always have clever, detailed touches which add to the drama and throw us back to the 1940s. For instance, we see Doris curtsey to the movie star and hastily take off her cardigan to look more formally dressed and tuck it under a sofa cushion. The style, costumes, hair and furnishings are perfectly in period and immerse us in the 1940s and there are strains of Vera Lynn's famous war time songs.

The highlight for me was watching as the Wellington bombers take off at the base. We see a film of these aircraft above the stage and hear the droning noise of the engines as two actors are framed watching them from the windows with the glass taped over against a bombing raid on the airfield. Squadron Leader Swanson talks us through the take off along the flare path. It was as if these bombers were flying over our heads in the auditorium.

It is Sheridan Smith's character, the chirpy wife whose husband hardly speaks any English, and she takes the acting honours with a situation of high drama. Sienna Miller's Patricia has a quieter more internalised decision in a less showy part. James Purefoy is handsome and credible as the star used to getting his own way with women. This is a skilled ensemble production with no performance out of place. I particularly liked Clive Wood's safe pair of hands as the guiding base commander who has to deliver bad news but who also loves being a part of the Royal Air Force. Flare Path is an effective and evocative drama of the Second World War and as fine a production as you could hope to see.

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Flare Path
Written by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Trevor Nunn

Starring: Sienna Miller, Sheridan Smith, James Purefoy, Joe Armstrong, Clive Wood, Harry Hadden-Paton
With: Sarah Crowden, Matthew Tennyson, Mark Dexter, Emma Handy, Jim Creighton, Richard Beanland, Kate Colebrook, Jan Shepherd
Set and Costume Design: Steven Brimson Lewis
Lighting Design: Paul Pyant
Sound Design: Paul Groothuis
Projection Design: Jack James
Music Consultant: Steven Edis
Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 0845 481 1870
Booking to 4th June 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th March 2011 performance at the Haymarket, Haymarket, London SW1 Y 4HT (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)

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