Set in World War Two, Patricia (Olivia Hallinan) is a former actress and wife of RAF pilot Teddy (Alastair Whatley). When her former flame and Hollywood icon Peter Kyle (Leon Ockenden) arrives and her husband is called on a dangerous mission over Germany, their seemingly perfect marriage is tested to the limits.
From the moment you enter the theatre, you feel yourself being immersed in the world of Flare Path. The action takes place in the lobby of the Old Falcon Hotel, a simple-looking but carefully designed set. The jagged metal framing of the stage juxtaposes the warm wooden furniture and reminds the audience of how fragile a thing safety was when attempting to live a wartime life.
Nothing is ever constant except for the tension of waiting; for the next air raid, for the next time the women’s husbands would be called away, for their return. Flare Path makes us feel the claustrophobic and tense atmosphere of the war at home as they sit, getting what information they can by reading the language of engines and planes.
The sound design by Dominic Bilkey is fantastic. The planes thunder overhead and create a heightened sense of danger and of the helplessness of the civilians below. The flare paths, the strips of light on the runway that planes use to help them take off, cut through the lobby as the pilots’ journeys cut through the characters’ lives.
Flare Path is an excellent glimpse into women’s lives during the war. Peter Kyle may be the Hollywood star, but he isn’t the only one who acts for a living – the women adopt the British attitude of carrying on. Mrs Miller (Shvorne Marks) embodies this through her fortitude and practicality, despite uncertain and perilous times. The characters are strong, or at least they pretend to be. They continue despite the confusion as their lives change; losing their homes, having to work and no longer having the security of a domestic life.
The characters are ordinary, everyday people but the actors masterfully bring them to life. Whilst all the romances are problematic, all the characters are likeable, especially Johnny (Adam Best) whose sweet disposition endears him to the audience. Pat and Peter, being two strong-headed and proud characters, have a lot of blunt and brutal dialogue, excellently delivered by the actors. However, not quite enough emotion is delivered when Teddy shouts at Pat; as this is the first time he’s ever raised his voice at her, the outburst needs more power and suddenness.
The attention to detail contributes to building the world of Flare Path, from the accents and slang to the gorgeous costumes. Women drawing a seam on the back of their legs was a common practice in order to give the illusion of wearing stockings when resources are scarce, a great detail that provides that extra bit of realism. The only real fault with Flare Path is that the second act fades into a domestic drama, perhaps to show that they are still living their own real lives with emotions and problems detached from the war. However, it becomes a little dull to watch.
The ending takes on a very dark tone very quickly, reminding the audience that there is no happy ending, just moments of joy snatched from what feels like an eternity of war. A heart-warming and funny play with an ever-present undercurrent of anxiety, Flare Path provides a way for us to reconnect with a vital time in Britain’s history.
Runs until Saturday 26 September 2015 as part of a tour | Photo: Jack Ladenburg