Flare Path by the Original Theatre company: West end play comes East?
By Jamie Bolton-Debbage
Terence Rattigan’s emotionally adept play about a group of Wellington bomber pilots in World War Two takes centre stage at the charming Orchard Theatre in Dartford.
The role of bomber command in the war is still an uncomfortable subject. Their belated recognition only came in 2012, when their contribution was commemorated with an impressive Hyde Park memorial. What remains prominent about their story is not only the devastation caused by the raids, but the heavy losses encountered by the crewmen throughout the war.
The play takes place in its entirety at the Falcon Hotel on the Lincolnshire coast; Patricia Graham, a London actress, is married to Teddy, who is a bomber pilot. The situation is complicated when Peter Kyle, a Hollywood film star, arrives at the hotel, and Teddy is sent out on a night raid over Germany. Patricia is torn between a rekindled old flame and loyalty to the husband who relies on her for support. The theme of duty, both of Teddy and Patricia, is a focal one and was skilfully brought out in this production.
Meanwhile, the popular Doris waits for her husband Count Skriczevinsky, a Polish pilot in the RAF, and tail gunner Dusty awaits his wife Maudie, who has trouble with the journey. Fears become heightened when a surprise raid is announced for the same night.
Terence Rattigan’s play was written during the war and based on his own experiences; this is no revisionist reflection. Even with this in mind, you cannot help but notice modern-day relevance: Daniel Fraser’s Lieutenant Graham wittily digs at the Daily Mail and the very entertaining Count Skriczevinsky, played by William Reay, shows us how far back the Polish contribution to this country goes.
The entirety of the cast were fantastic and Justin Audibert’s direction created a pace that a enabled smooth landing for the dialogue. This was important, because the writing could be lengthy in parts.
Just after the 70th anniversary of VE day, millennials will hopefully appreciate a play and a generation that had to put up with more than just a sluggish world economy and sporadic terrorism. The play cleverly focuses on relationships and slowly builds up the inevitability of combat, making it more harrowing. Comic relief is provided by the previously mentioned William Reay, who plays Skriczevinsky; it was needed after long periods of grippingly tense dialogue.