Tally ho! It's seventy years since Terrence Rattigan wrote World War II RAF drama Flare Path. Hot on the footsteps of the award-winning revival of Rattigan's After The Dance, Flare Path is back in the West End featuring a stellar crew including Sienna Miller, James Purefoy and Sheridan Smith up on stage and Trevor Nunn popping his cherry as the Theatre Royal's artistic director.
The plot revolves around a love triangle — Sienna Miller as Patricia has married Graham, a bomber pilot, while still in love with her ex, famous actor Peter Kyle (Purefoy) — set against a background of dangerous sorties.
Nunn may be slightly older than this play but he wrings an energetic performance out of the whole cast. With so much firepower on show, though, it's inevitable that the reviews thus far have focussed on the stars. Famously known more perhaps for her appearances on tabloid pages than London stages, Miller may no longer be Law-abiding but her role as Patricia, an actress who plays with a married man's heart, strangely reflects her own recent personal history. With this in mind, it's curious that she doesn't imbue her role with more empathy. PassionForTheatre agrees, saying that her performance isn’t nearly as good as the rest of the superb and flawless cast.
James Purefoy, the man who turned down the title role in V for Vendetta (presumably with V-signs), plays many of his scenes opposite Miller yet their sexual scenario never really triggers that much excitement according to Theatremania's Natasha Tripney.
Thankfully, his Olivier-winning co-star Sheridan Smith laps up more of the plaudits. A few years ago, the Lincolnshire-born lass was on TV's Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps opposite Ralf Little as her husband Jonny. In Flare Path, she plays somewhat within her comfort zone as Doris, the Lincolnshire-born ex-barmaid married to Polish pilot Count Skriczevinsky (try saying that with a stiff upper lip) whom she affectionately calls "Johnny". "Sheridan Smith shakes off her Legally Blonde persona with a moving portrayal of Doris" says Glen's Theatre Blog while Mark Owens, the chap behind TravelShorts.com, describes her as "the stand out performance of the night".
With any drama of this age, there's a danger that the period references leave the audience scrabbling for their history books; Boycotting Trends' review says as much: "there’s a sense, perhaps, that the play is too much of a museum piece, one that had something vital to communicate to 1940s audiences but has less to say to us today." Having said that, there are some relevant pointers to modern times; for example, when Graham breaks down with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something which has only been understood since the 1970s but which hospitalised 10% of American soldiers between 1942 and 1945.
Flare Path is at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket until 4 June. More tickets and information can be found here.