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Flare Path review at Theatre Royal Haymarket London

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Upon seeing the original production of Flare Path in 1942, Winston Churchill announced that the play was a masterpiece of understatement. To an extent, this current production yields to this observation, focusing on the unspoken sacrifices made by individuals in times of national crisis. The language and attitudes of Rattigan’s characters may tempt parody, indeed one of the characters scoffs at the expression of his own patriotic fervour, but director Trevor Nunn cuts through to the humanity of the play and gives us a spectacular cast to tell its story.

The centre of the story is a love triangle, with James Purefoy playing Hollywood actor Peter Kyle attempting to win back the love of Sienna Miller’s Patricia Warren. The dilemma is that Warren has recently married Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham, an amiable burgeoning war hero still on active duty, brought to vivid life by the wonderful Harry Hadden-Paton. Purefoy delivers a tremendous performance as Kyle, unravelling the character’s caprices and insecurities to great effect, but ultimately allowed to redeem himself simply by reading a letter to a grieving widow in a moment of simple, theatrical magic.

Miller acquits herself in a far more dislikeable role but her performance remains slightly tenuous.

The heart of this play lies in the character of Doris and in Sheridan Smith, Nunn has chosen the perfect actor to play the British barmaid who has married a Polish Flying Officer. Blessed with a broad emotional range, Smith blossoms in a role that requires humour, vulnerability but ultimately a strong sense of character.

Smith’s however, is simply a bravura performance in a dazzling cast including Mark Dexter as the Polish Johnny, whose comic timing is simply exquisite, Emma Handy as the pragmatic Maude and Sarah Crowden, as the harridan hotelier of Great British legend. A special mention should go to Matthew Tennyson playing the young potboy, Percy. Still yet to graduate, Tennyson is delightfully gauche and never once overplays any comic possibilities.

Flare Path marks the first major production in the West End to celebrate the Rattigan centenary and in terms of casting and direction, could be extremely hard to top.

Production Information

Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, March 10-June 4

Author
Terrence Rattigan
Director
Trevor Nunn
Producers
Matthew Byam Shaw, Playful Productions, Theatre Royal Haymarket Company, Act Productions Ltd, Tom McKitterick, Bob Bartner, Norman Tulchin
Cast
Sheridan Smith, James Purefoy, Sienna Miller, Harry Hadden-Paton, Mark Dexter, Sarah Crowden, Clive Wood, Matthew Tennyson
Running time
2hrs 40mins
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