Even at the pinnacle of his success, Terence Rattigan was prone to making inadvisable decisions for the sake of celebrity casting. So Sienna Miller’s presence in Trevor Nunn’s revival of 1941 war drama ‘Flare Path’ is unfortunately apt. In the role of Patricia Graham, an actress torn between her movie star lover, Peter Kyle (James Purefoy) and her pilot husband, Percy (Matthew Tennyson), Miller isn’t really up to scratch, her lack of nuance a poor fit for Rattigan’s implied meanings and spare, ultra-distilled dialogue.
Fortunately, this is very much an ensemble piece. In the author’s centenary year, Nunn does a good job fashioning an emotionally resonant production that largely transcends the ways in which the play – written by Rattigan while serving in the RAF – is unavoidably locked into the period in which it was written. The action takes place in the lounge of a Lincolnshire hotel, where the bomber pilots stationed at the nearby airbase stay with conjugal guests. It’s a cloistered little world and, wandering suavely in one evening, Purefoy’s aging matinée idol might as well be from a different planet. Certainly that’s how Doris (Smith), a dotty barmaid married to a Polish count stationed on the base, receives him, clucking in delight at this celluloid vision made flesh. But when she shushes him so she can listen to a plane pass by, it’s the first hint that Peter’s plans to fly in and razzle dazzle his ex-lover may encounter turbulence.
Of course it’s partly wartime propaganda: Peter is the cosseted cad, his failings exposed by Our Boys. But there’s so much more to Rattigan than that, and Nunn’s poignant production is alive to ‘Flare Path’s bittersweet textures. What Doris and Percy know and Pat and Peter come to learn, is that for all life’s myriad subtleties, sometimes there is no option but to exist only in black and white. It’s a lesson Purefoy’s Peter finally learns in a moving flood of tears. And it’s a way of life that Smith’s Doris lives to the full. From the way she expresses her hurt at a snide comment only via a look in her eyes as she exits, to the gravitas she injects into to the saccharine ending, there’s an ocean of feeling behind her cheery façade. It’s a superb performance, equal parts Chekhov and Victoria Wood.
What a shame that in Miller’s hands, Patricia’s inner conflict feels like such a small thing compared to Doris’s. Elsewhere, I could have done without the cartoon projections of bombers, while the less said about Mark Dexter’s Borat-ish Polish count the better. But Nunn’s production is largely very good, and mention should go to some fine supporting turns from Clive Wood and Sarah Crowdon.
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Wonderful performance by all, and I thought ALL the actors were amazing. Sorry, couldn't agree less about the Polish count. Borat never crossed my mind. He was sweet, provided comic relief where needed, but still had the dramatic chops to convincingly show how much it meant to be back with his wife. I was totally absorbed in the story and the relationships between all the characters as was everybody else around me. Go and see this one!
A great night's entertainment lit up by a seemingly effortless performance by Sheridan Smith. Her sensitive portrayal of the young Countess was perfectly pitched and aided by her instinctive comic-timing. And, without taking anything away from the rest of the excellent cast, I could almost sense the audience willing her to appear in every scene. By contrast, Sienna Miller's Patricia was much less endearing as the depth of her predicament never quite matched that of the other suffering wives. Nevertheless, Sienna Miller gives a strong and credible performance. Although quite a lengthy play, it never drags. Its emotional mix of wartime romance and cameraderie, along with striking displays of personal angst give it a powerful impact...get your tickets while you can, before word really gets out!
I have to admit, i went along mainly to see Sienna Miller - but WOW what a show. I am one of those people that usually gets restless sitting in cramped seats watching a show but i was 100% enamoured with the story and the characters from start to end. With the perfect balance of humour and sentiment, i agree with the comment below about feeling like you are sitting within the set with them, as everything unfolds around you. An absolute triumph and I am so glad i had the chance to see it. go go go!
A must see for all theatre lovers, Trevor Nunn has perfected Terrance Rattigan's 1941 play. An amazing cast, with Sheridan Smith bringing both a humour and emotional punch that confirms her place her as one of the West End's best. Strong performances from all members of the company, especially Harry Hadden-Paton and Sienna Miller, along with a story so real you feel as though you are on the sofa with them whilst it is unravelling around you. If you don't already have tickets, get them now, as this will surely be one of "the" productions of the year.