Flare Path at The Liverpool Playhouse

Posted on 11 November 2015
By Chris High
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In the week in which the nation honours its fallen heroes of armed conflict, it might be anticipated that the current production of Terrence Rattigan’s Flare Path at The Liverpool Playhouse might do the bravery of men and women of World War II some justice. Sadly, however, it doesn’t.

What it does instead is cement – were it necessary – the stereotypical portrayals of every senior officer being a Public School Jonny on a bit of a lark, whereas their crews are simply there to make up the disposable numbers and their women nothing more than gin-quaffing gossips who wait anxiously for their safe return with quiet stoicism.

What makes things even worse, if indeed that was possible, is that the “story”, such as it is, revolves around a brief “border-defying” love affair between a visiting, visiting-if-ageing Hollywood matinee idol and a peripheral English stage actress (in war time, where air travel was, apparently, as easy as booking Easy Jet to Malaga), who has since married the locally based, dashing-if-dim Flight Lieutenant charged with bringing home his crew from a last minute raid over enemy territory.

The set is stunning. A vast staircase to the right is magnificent as it sweeps into the lounge of the country hotel in which the “action” takes place; a room bedecked with some splendid period furniture that makes the viewer ponder how much it might all go for on Antiques Roadshow.

The fact that the performances of the said wooden items far outweigh those of many on stage, is notable in the extreme and what an actor like Philip Franks is doing involved in this is anybody’s guess. To say that he is wasted is something of an understatement, although – conversely – that he fits right in also speaks volumes.

There are some memorable moments, particularly those supplied by Adam Best in the role of Polish Flying Officer, Count (what else?) Skriczevinsky, and Stephanie Jacob as the faffing, flapping hotelier, Mrs. Oakes(stalwart and reliable,see?) who sets about her tasks with all the gusto of a matriarch on speed.

Yet these moments are few and, above all, it is the cringe inducing dialogue, despite being first penned in 1942, that truly rankles like an over ripe kipper; so awful is it in fact that it would take actors a million times better than David Niven and Sir John Mills in their hey day to make proceedings in any way interesting and the quicker this particular experiment is confined once more to its bunker, the better.

Flare Path
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
November 10 – November 14
Author: Terrence Rattigan
Director: Justin Audibert
Set & Costume Design: Hayley Grindle
Cast: Leon Ockenden, Olivia Hallinan, Philip Franks, Adam Best, James Cooney, Simon Darwen, Stephanie Jacob, Shvorne Marks, Siobahn O’Kelly, William Reay, Holly Smith, Alistair Whatley
Running Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
PR Rating: ** Crash Landing