At Jericho Arts Centre until October 22, 2016
Posted October 15, 2016
Flare Path is an odd choice for the Slamming Door Artist Collective that mounted Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in the fall of 2015 in the same venue with many of the same actors. Back in 1879 when Ibsen’s play premiered in Copenhagen, critics and scholars predicted that the slamming of the door behind Nora as she walked out on her husband Torvald was a sound that would be heard around the world. Nora’s determination to steer her own course became a rallying cry for the emerging feminist movement.
On the other hand, Flare Path, written by Terence Rattigan, gives us Patricia (Yoshié Bancroft), an actress who makes the conservative, ‘ethical’ decision: she stays with the husband who treats her like a trophy, much the way Torvald treated Nora.
But it’s not quite that simple: Teddy, her husband (played by Curtis Tweedie), is a goof who can’t stop kidding around; he’s also an RAF flight lieutenant flying dangerous bombing missions over Germany. He’s a hero. But Patricia is still in love with Peter (Jesse Martyn), an American actor with whom she had an affair before marrying Teddy.
Peter arrives unannounced at the Falcon Hotel where Teddy, Patricia and several other RAF men and their wives are spending some brief time before the bombing raids resume. Peter has come to take Patricia back to America with him; he “needs” her, he says.
If this play were written today, Patricia would dump both men and strike out on her own. It doesn’t help that in this production Teddy is like a kid (until very late in the play) and Peter’s a cad.
Having chosen this play for whatever reason, director Genevieve Fleming does a fine job of it. She establishes a palpable sense of wartime. The Falcon Hotel is located near an RAF base where planes are taking off and returning with frequency. The flare path, a line of lights set out along the runway to guide the nighttime bombers, also makes the base a target for German raiders. We hear the planes leaving and returning; the women who live in the hotel – the proprietor Mrs. Oakes (Laura Jaye), the maid (Julie Leung) and the Countess (Tamara McCarthy) – all recognize the different types of aircraft and who’s likely to be at the controls. When the squadron leader Swanson (Paul Herbert) orders an impromptu mission, the play quickly gets airborne.
Although the central romance is the Peter-Patricia-Teddy triangle, there is also Dusty (Ashley O’Connell) and Maudie (Melissa Oei), a working class couple with an argumentative yet tender relationship. But it’s McCarthy as the Countess Skriczevinsky, who is the beating heart of Flare Path. Formerly a barmaid, the Countess met and married the Polish count (Sebastian Kroon) after his wife and children were killed in Poland by the Germans. Determined to avenge their deaths, the Count came to England and joined forces with the RAF in its efforts to defeat the Luftwaffe. Kroon is careful not to turn the Count into the stereotypical foreigner attempting to master English. He makes it funny but we laugh with the Count not at him.
Marcus Stusek creates a warm and elegant hotel lounge with a huge, opaque rear wall out of which the characters can see the air base. Costume designer Chantal Short provides lovely 40s frocks – especially the red brick-coloured, velvet-trimmed ensemble on McCarthy. And the hair-dos are perfect: rolled, permed and no doubt bobby-pinned. Lighting and special effects by Andrew Pye make it impossible not to reflect on what Londoners (and the people of Dresden) experienced during the war.
Large and largely successful, Flare Path is ambitious in its illustration of a bygone period. However, Slamming Door Artist Collective’s earlier production – A Doll’s House – will stay with me far longer than Flare Path. That slamming door just continues to reverberate across the years.