Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
This lively, warm, moving revival of Terence Rattigan’s “Flare Path”, written in 1942, easily transcends its original historical context.
Rattigan had first-hand experience of flying Coastal Command as a gunnery officer in WW2. The “flare path” of the title is the guiding trail of lights set out for bombers as they take off to do their deadly work over German territory.
We’re reminded in a programme note by Sir Max Hastings that this destruction was in retaliation for the Blitzkrieg by Nazi Germany. The language and customs of survival in wartime have become habitual to the civilians and RAF personnel at the Falcon Hotel. But Peter Kyle (Leon Ockenden), a famous film actor from the USA, is quickly proved to be a tactless outsider. His unexpected arrival creates emotional turmoil for Patricia, glamorous wife of Flight Lieutenant Graham. Does Patricia need a metaphorical flare path to guide her?
The plot of the play derives from the interweaving of two sources of tension: will Teddy Graham, Gunner Dusty Miller and Flying Officer Count Skriczevinski return safely from the unexpected bombing raid they’re called out upon tonight; and where do Patricia’s love and loyalties finally lie? This is more than a patriotic tale of Air Force heroism, and more than a story of romance and betrayal, but comprises both.
I loved the witty and sensitive performances of the whole cast, from beginning to end, from the sturdy disapproving patriotism of Stephanie Jacob as the hotel owner to Olivia Warren’s strong portrayal of Patricia, a haughty “glamour-puss” who reveals unexpected emotional depths. As “Gloria” Swanson the Squadron Leader, Philip Franks gives a delightful performance. His mime of himself as a “flightless lieutenant” at an otherwise tense moment in the evening is unforgettable.
The emotional strength of this play lies in Rattigan’s exploration of the nature of love, duty, weakness and heroism. Justin Audibert’s direction and Rattigan’s dialogue allow these perennial themes to be aired with a fresh humour and lightness of touch.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of the play’s original function as a morale-booster in war-torn UK is the final scene, which might be criticised for avoiding realism and tragic possibilities. But it’s performed with such gusto that it seems an appropriate end to this dynamic production. To my own surprise, I’ve become a Rattigan fan.
"Flare Path" is at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford until Friday 28th November.
I approached Guildbury’s production of Jamaica Inn with some trepidation. I was aware of the pitfalls of melodrama and over-production inherent in Du Maurier’s story of a young girl caught up in intrigue and romance, smugglers, wreckers and murderers in 19th Century Cornwall.
I needn’t have worried. Eddie Woolrich’s well-paced and sensitive direction of Lisa Wells’ play, Ian Nichol’s excellent design and a talented cast ensure that the story is told in an evening of sheer entertainment. Sentimentality and melodrama are downplayed in favour of poetic narrative, real drama and character portrayal. Sound and lighting take us to Cornwall’s bleak moors: I loved the sheep baa-ing, the gulls, the waves, and the use of scrim curtains to vary the elegantly simple set.
As a narrative device, the chorus, spoken and at times sung, is masterly, giving the play a mythic quality, reminiscent of T S Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’. The poetry brings alive the landscape, physical and emotional, through which the characters move. A symbolic “Woman”, Gilly Fick, speaks eloquently throughout for the thoughts and fears of the young girl sent to live with her aunt at the grim desolate inn on Bodmin Moor, where nefarious goings-on are soon revealed to her.
Fleur Wolstenholme is an assertive Mary Yellan, by turns charming, defiant, puzzled and justly terrified, trying to understand her Aunt Patience’s refusal to leave Joss Merlyn, her drunken and abusive husband, landlord of Jamaica Inn. Michael Lawrence and Diane Nichols give strong, perceptive performances as the dysfunctional couple. Diane Nichols portrays Patience’s abused, submissive state and the nurturing love that holds her to Joss’s side in a powerful performance. Michael Lawrence is a frightening and brutal Joss, revealing his tormented conscience in a moving soliloquy on his murderous activities that is one of the highlights of the night.
Mark Williams as Davey the “moon-bleached man”, Tom Kent and Kim Ferguson and the rest of the cast support the main protagonists admirably. The smugglers, merely coarse and vulgar in an early scene, become frightening criminals in the excellently staged scene of murder on the beach. The ensemble scenes are faultless.
This is a brilliant evening’s entertainment by an experienced and talented dramatic group. It exemplifies the best of amateur dramatic productions at the Electric Theatre, a resource that should be nurtured at all costs. Don’t miss it!
18th November 2015
King Charles III