Flare Path

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Previewed 4 March 2011, Opened 10 March 2011, Closed 4 June 2011 at the Haymarket Theatre in London

A major revival of Terrace Rattigan's play Flare Path in London starring Sienna Miller, James Purefoy and Sheridan Smith and directed by Trevor Nunn.

It is 1942. At the Falcon Hotel and Public House, on the Lincolnshire coast, Teddy, a young RAF bomber pilot celebrates a reunion with his actress wife Patricia. But they are thrown into upheaval when Peter, Patricia's ex lover and a Hollywood heart-throb arrives and an urgent bombing mission over Germany is ordered. Who will make the sacrifice during the long night, as Patricia finds herself at the centre of an emotional conflict as unpredictable as the war in the skies. Flare Path is a story of love and loyalty, courage and fear.

The cast for Flare Path in London features Sienna Miller as 'Patricia Warren' (Mrs Graham), James Purefoy as 'Peter Kyle' and Sheridan Smith as 'Doris' (Countess Skriczevinsky) with Mark Dexter as 'Teddy' (F/Lt Graham), Joe Armstrong, Jim Creighton, Sarah Crowden, Harry Hadden-Paton, Emma Handy, Matthew Tennyson and Clive Wood along with Richard Beanland, Kate Colebrook and Jan Shepherd. The production is directed by Trevor Nunn with designs by Stephen Brimson Lewis, lighting by Paul Pyant, sound by Paul Groothuis and projection by Jack James. Terence Rattigan's West End credits include Cause Celebre, The Winslow Boy, The Deep Blue Sea, Separate Tables, Man and Boy, Harlequinade and The Browning Version.

"Terence Rattigan's highly charged drama, set near an air base in 1942, calls for a strong company spirit. The plot concerns a love triangle between a gorgeous actress (a stiff but sincere Sienna Miller), her pilot husband and a vain, charming film star (James Purefoy, excellently unsentimental)... Sheridan Smith is terribly moving as a plucky spouse. Enhanced by awesome projections of Wellington bombers taking off over the hotel, Trevor Nunn's production catches every quiver of emotion at a time when a stiff upper lip was the only kind to have." The Sunday Times

"It is a pity Flare Path couldn't have been performed in black and white: the revival of Sir Terence Rattigan's 1942 play about the 'glamour boys' of the RAF otherwise captures all of the stiff-upper-lip charm of those old films. It is a funny time-capsule of a play - dated on one level, but acted by such a strong ensemble cast, and directed with such loving care by Sir Trevor Nunn, that I can't find it in my heart to say a word against it... Generations of theatrical sensibilities separate this production from anything else now playing in the West End - and that makes it rather a good thing in my book." The Sunday Telegraph

"Sir Trevor Nunn's tremendous, lovingly detailed revival has footage of Wellington bombers taking off projected on the wall above the draughty looking lounge of the Falcon Hotel where the wives of servicemen begin a long, fraught night of waiting for their husbands to return from the perilous night raid. ... Blonde, willowy Sienna Miller not only looks the part of Pat - dreamy arm candy - but is very good as the initially superficial young woman who appears to know herself as little as she knows her husband... James Purefoy is a splendidly vain, egotistical Kyle but the real star of this production is Sheridan Smith as Doris, the so-called Countess, an ex-barmaid who married a Polish count fighting with the RAF. Smith's bright and bottle-blonde Doris wears her unaffected Northern heart on her sleeve, smiling bravely through her tears as she knocks back a pink gin with a cheery 'Tinkerty tonk, ducks'. She's got the sharpest radar of anyone, instantly clocking whether the wheezing engine overhead is one of Jerry's as surely as she senses snobbish eyebrows rising at her marrying a count. But like the airmen, she has astonishing courage and not an ounce of self-pity. Take a large hanky. As these chaps would say, a jolly good show, most awfully well done." The Mail on Sunday

Terrace Rattigan used his own experience as a tail gunner in the RAF during the Second World War to write Flare Path. The original production opened in London's West End at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue on 13 August 1942 and run for some 670 performances before closing on 22 January 1944. The Prime Minister at the time, Winston Churchill along with his wife and daughter saw the play in January 1943 afterwhich Churchill exclaimed: "I was very moved by this play. It is a masterpiece of understatement. But we are rather good at that, aren't we?" Rattigan adapted Flare Path for the 1945 film re-titled The Way to the Stars which starred Michael Redgrave and John Mills.

Trevor Nunn, the director of this revival, explains: "It's about the pilots and gunners of Bomber Command in 1941. It is set during a crisis period when crews were flying missions and the catastrophe rate of those missions over Germany was very high, as they were then still trying to avoid civilian centres, pinpointing arms factories and airfields and so forth. They were trying to do this with very poor navigational aids, frequently discovering that planes were returning with bombs undropped as they couldn't find the target. This is the background to an extraordinary love story which Rattigan brilliantly interweaves throughout the play. What I didn't realise when I read it was that it is semi-autobiographical. I didn't know, for example, that Rattigan was in Coastal Command, that he flew missions and that he was a gunner and radio operator. He had the experience of being shot at and thinking he was going to die when a plane he was on was going to have to ditch... Why is the insight into the fear and terror so authentic? Because Rattigan lived it. The language of stiff upper lip and the understatement of wartime bravery is utterly authentic because it was what he knew and heard all around him in 1941... It's very difficult for us to imagine how they could have left on those missions night after night knowing the odds were so heavily stacked against them. There must be some way of commending that bravery."

Flare Path in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 4 March 2011, opened on 10 March 2011 and closed on 4 June 2011.