Review Round-up: Nunn Follows Rattigan Flare Path
Set in 1942 at the Falcon Hotel on the edge of an RAF airfield in Lincolnshire, Teddy, a young bomber pilot is celebrating a reunion with his actress wife Patricia. Events take an unexpected turn, when Peter a famous heartthrob film star arrives, and an urgent bombing mission over Germany is ordered.
As the night gives way to dawn, Patricia finds herself at the centre of a passionate conflict of love and loyalty as unpredictable as the war in the skies.
Flare Path was first performed in the West End at the Apollo Theatre in 1942 and is based on Rattigan’s own experiences as a tail gunner during the Second World War.
"Terence Rattigan’s second commercial success... has been unjustly forgotten, and Trevor Nunn’s superb production marks not only the playwright’s centenary but also his own new season as the Haymarket’s artistic director ... Rattigan untangles this romantic situation with great skill, revealing deep ties of dependency, exacerbated by the bombing experience, while animating the lives of other airmen and their partners ... There’s quite a lot asked of the comparatively inexperienced Sienna Miller; but she does convey a sense of emotional disturbance without being too specific. Occasionally, alas, she’s just vacant. Purefoy’s slightly seedy actor, worried about losing his looks, is equally too opaque, but perfectly cast as a sort of louche Gregory Peck. Nunn and his designer Stephen Brimson Lewis have created a period style without making the acting seem arch or mannered ... Smith’s brilliant technical acting allows you to know and think what she feels at every second: she sparkles with emotional volatility throughout."
"Nunn’s superb production as a three-handkerchief weepie that somehow manages to be both profoundly moving and wonderfully funny ... The play is set in the residents’ lounge of a drab hotel frequented by the pilots and crew of a nearby RAF station ... A place where lips are worn stiff and tension is relieved by alcohol and banter. As in so many of his greatest plays, Rattigan is writing here about what he perceived as the greatest flaw in the English character – our refusal to admit to our feelings. Nunn’s production beautifully captures both the Forties small talk and the deeper emotions that lie beneath it, while Stephen Brimson Lewis’ authentically dowdy hotel design is offset with thrilling projections and sound effects of the Wellingtons taking off ... Sienna Miller has grace and glamour as the actress at the apex of the love triangle, but needs to suggest deeper currents beneath her character’s reserve ... if Miller could turn up the dramatic heat a couple of notches, the production would be damn near perfect."
"Trevor Nunn's magnificent revival of Terence Rattigan's 1942 play... uses a personal dilemma as a way of exploring the group ethos ... Rattigan's genius for barely expressed emotion... by a simple exchange of goodbyes between a tail-gunner and his wife, as he leaves for a raid, brings a lump to the throat... Rattigan's plays are an attack on the English vice of emotional containment. But he also understood its dramatic power and, watching this play, it struck me that Rattigan learned that from his own wartime RAF experience. Nunn's production ... beautifully captures both the sense of danger and its boozy, raucous aftermath. And the performances are impeccable. Sienna Miller looks suitably strained, tense and taut as the agonised Patricia and James Purefoy admirably conveys the sense of exclusion felt by the movie star caught up in wartime action. Sheridan Smith is also quite stunning as a former barmaid who now finds herself a countess because of her marriage to the Polish pilot: Smith never overdoes the brassiness and there is... that embarrassed English emotional hesitancy that makes this play so overwhelmingly moving."
"Sienna Miller's performance... is genuinely heart-tugging in the subtle way it communicates this young woman's struggle between patriotic duty and extra-marital desire ... Trevor Nunn's richly entertaining and beautifully judged revival of this theatrical rarity... which proved that Rattigan... was not a one-hit wonder ... Rattigan sets this painful predicament in the context of other tricky war-time relationships. The luminous Sheridan Smith keeps bringing delighted laughter and a lump to the throat in her superb portrayal of Doris, the down-to-earth Lincolnshire barmaid elevated to foreign aristocracy by her marriage to Mark Dexter's wonderfully quixotic, Anglophonically-challenged Polish Flying Officer, Count Skriczevinsky ... Smith wrings your heart as she conveys the pluck and refinement of spirit of this superficially common little woman ... A terrific evening."
"All the action takes place over a single weekend in autumn 1941, in the lounge of a modest hotel in Lincolnshire ... The hotel is a haven for exhausted air crews, and we sense their nourishing camaraderie as well as the gnawing anxieties of the wives who wait for them when they venture out on bombing missions ... Yet even if the material seems a little dated and schematic, there's no mistaking Rattigan's talent for depicting repressed emotion and tragicomic acts of concealment ... James Purefoy's Kyle initially comes across as suave, but we can see that he aches with longing ... Harry Hadden-Paton perfectly captures the back-slapping joviality of Teddy ... The best performance, though, comes from Sheridan Smith as the Count's wife Doris ... Smith radiates impish charm, but in her moments of doubt and sadness proves almost woundingly touching. Sir Trevor's direction is lucid and scrupulously precise ... This is as polished and potent an interpretation of it as one could wish to see."
"Classic Rattigan: undemonstrative emotional catharsis. In this all-but-forgotten wartime play the catharsis was his own ... It is a triumph, and not only for Trevor Nunn (heaven knows he deserved a good war, after struggling with the dismal Birdsong). Sienna Miller is the actress wife planning to leave her puppyish, superficially larky airman ... Despite her irritatingly 21st-century hairstyle, this marks her acceptance as a grown-up stage actress, expressing truthful feeling beyond the glamorous image. But even better is Sheridan Smith ... Like Hadden-Paton she has the hard task of portraying decent, ordinary, unclouded, youthful response: both are superb. Purefoy is subtle, too, as the selfish and insensitive Hollywood star who needs a shock ... Rattigan’s people are in it together. It is nearly three hours and, for all its complex emotion, the ending is not bleak but unexpectedly uproarious. A modern playwright would have stopped 15 minutes earlier, on a downbeat. But in terrible times, people do joke and sing. That’s where hope lies and, for all his mastery of pain, Rattigan always looked for it."
- Lis Reitman