There have been some amazing productions at my local theatre (Theatr Clwyd) recently and tonight's play was no exception.
Set in 1942, Terrence Rattigan's play Flare Path tells the story of RAF Bomber Command. I sat down in the theatre looking at a simple stage set of a 1940's hotel lobby, listening to 1940's music and I drifted into a bygone era.
The play centers on the crew of a Lancaster Bomber and their wives. RAF pilot Teddy is married to an actress, Patricia, and their happiness is to be tested by the arrival of the famous actor Peter Kyle, who it transpires is Patricia's ex-lover! Doris, a former Lincolnshire barmaid (Countess Skriczevinsky) is married to a Polish Count who is fighting with the British against Germany. It seems an unlikely match, however, as the story unfolds you can see why the two are together and why their relationship is so strong. The final couple is the Millers, Dusty (a tail-gunner) and his wife Maudie who has popped down on the bus to see him for one night. Their home in London has been bombed and she has to bear living with his family in St Albans, and it is imperative she goes home the next day so that she can go to work.
The Bomber took off over my head
The play takes you back to the time when women worried that they may never see their husbands again, and men had to keep a stiff upper lip, knowing that every time they took to the skies, they might never make it back. It was amazing how atmospheric the production was. As the crew were called to a night bombing raid, we were party to the take off of the aircraft. The sound effects made it feel as though there really was a Lancaster Bomber just taking off over your head, just clearing the fence as it tried to get its heavy load off the ground. It sent shivers running through your body, wondering who was in which plane, and who would make it back. When we were told one of the planes had been bombed whilst trying to take off, you were filled with the horror that this really did happen 70 years ago, and you could feel the emotions running through the wives, colleagues and friends that were left on the ground.
Flare Path (the lights that make up the runway to allow the planes to take off and land safely) was a fantastic play showing the light and shade of war. We are filled with horror at the events people had to live with, but the mirth of British humour that carried people through the war, carried the audience through the play. There were some hilarious moments especially at the beginning of the play when Peter Kyle ( Lyndon Edwards) enters the hotel looking for lodgings for the night. The hotelier, Mrs Oakes, asks if he wants a single or double room. He says single. She says there are none. He then tries for a double to which the reply is the same! Doris (Claire Andreadis) is snoring in a chair, when she wakes up she realises she is looking at a famous actor and is stuck somewhere between starstruck, and talking nonsense at him. For a few minutes I recognised some similarities between conversations I've had with actors!! Her intervention means that the hotelier is suddenly able to find him a bed for the night and this allows the story to build to one of its most poignant moments and story arcs.
In the second Act of Flare Path, Doris remembers a joke about a furious wife, holding a rolling pin, and waiting for her husband to get home at some ungodly hour. It was a joke of the battle of the sexes before the war commenced, but that image was one which women would love to have entertained during the war. Instead of being furious that their husband was home late, during wartime all women could do was pray that their husbands would return safely.
Patricia and Peter have a conversation during the first Act of the play in which Patricia confirms she will tell her husband, Teddy, that she will leave him. She misses her opportunity, and events transpire in Act two that make her think hard about her relationship. She faces a painful predicament at a time when wartime relationships could be rather tricky. At the same time whilst she is battling her emotions, we witness the torment of Doris as she wonders what has happened to her husband during the night time raid. Doris, a down to earth commoner elevated in status through marriage, will tug at your heart strings as well as entertain you with her wartime spirit.
I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation, it was emotional, inspirational and uplifting, a very enjoyable production that the cast and creatives should be proud of.