I was very keen to catch up with this play, which is now touring extensively in a solidly cast and directed production. It has become a work of some historic interest. The plays of Terence Rattigan are a kind of symbol of the well-made-play or drawing-room drama that dominated the British stage until kitchen sinks arrived in 1956; and this now-almost-forgotten text is of renewed interest for several reasons. Like the emblematic film Mrs Miniver, it was an immediate response to Britain’s state and plight during World War II and it is fascinating to see a story unfold about the demands of life in the early days of the conflict that was written at the time. It is a play about duty, decency and courage; about camaraderie and friendship under fire; and though the text feels a little dated and clunky at moments, essentially it is a well-crafted piece of work with characters that are rather touching as well as engaging.
Director Justin Audibert, who directed a very successful production for the RSC of The Jew of Malta not so long ago, proves again that he has a strong sense of style as well as intellectual understanding for plays from the past. It’s almost invidious to single anyone out in what is essentially an ensemble piece, but Lynden Edward as the aging Hollywood heart-throb wanting to steal back his lover and Hedydd Dylan as that lover, Patricia Warren, are utterly convincing in their passion as well as the awareness they develop of the difference between their personal desires and duty. Dylan in particular is fine as the pivotal figure in the triangle, and the duet scenes with her lover and then her husband, Teddy, excellently developed by Daniel Fraser, are the heart of the play.
Claire Andreadis delights and moves as the former barmaid, Doris, who is now the Countess Skriczevinsky because she has married a Polish flyer; and the sense of danger and stress for both airmen and civilians is strongly impressed upon the audience. I wavered about whether to give this three or four stars – it does at times feel dated; and the night I attended the play actors were having a bit of trouble adjusting to the acoustic of the theatre for the first half. But the pacing improved in the second half and I am certain that as it travels round the country this production will gain even more energy and assurance; and it seemed to me to be a real privilege to be able to travel back in time to the Falcon Hotel in Milchester, Lincolnshire, in 1942 and see what was going on.
The programme has some excellent and informative essays in it about the context of the play and its times by Sir Max Hastings, Mark Fisher and John Good. The play is touring extensively until May 2016 and offers us a very solid and evocative evening in the theatre that I recommend should it turn up in a theatre near you. See: http://www.flarepaththetour.com/