Almost 2 years ago to the day, I did something that I haven’t done since before my operation in 2010.
I went to see a show, all by myself, probably to the downright horror of the theatre’s health and safety officer. But hey, that’s what a limited care package gets you.
Anyway, I’ll spare you the back story and get right down to business.
I broke out of my new normal to go see Flarepath, which was on at The Playhouse in Liverpool. Many things could have gone wrong during this play: I could have suffered an asthma attack, my back could have locked up, my heart murmur could have picked up and left me short of breath and dizzy. I could have thrown up randomly, I could have found myself in an altercation with a disgruntled fellow theatre-goer. I could have found myself needing the toilet and not being able to get back out again – It has happened before. (Misadventure 1: McDonalds, Liverpool Town Centre, heavy door vs No manoeuvre room, Misadventure 2: Broadgreen Hospital, Orthopeadic Clinic, Very Heavy Door.)
I risked all of that, and possibly more! To see two people i’ve wanted to see act in a theatre* near me for years: Olivia Hallinan and Philip Franks! Both being in the same play, it killed the proverbial birds with one stone.
So, for those of you haven’t read Flarepath, and don’t worry, I am amongst you, the play is about a group of people who are staying in the same hotel, near the aerodrome in Lincolnshire, during World War 2. But it’s not just about any old people, no! We have an actor, called Peter Kyle, who checks in to the hotel seemingly under the guise of business, then we have resident Countess Doris Skriczevinsky. She’s married to Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky and recognises Actor Peter Kyle straight away. She’s a fan! Fellow hotel guest is Patricia “Pat” Graham (played by Hallinan) who is also an actor. Yet, for reasons not yet disclosed at this point, Peter Kyle is rather cagey about whether he knows her or not. Despite having worked on a film together. See? Very cagey.
Then we have Pat’s Pilot husband Teddy, Air Gunner Dusty, who is married to poor Maudie, who is the most normal guest at the hotel. She lost everything when a bomb hit her house, and she’s very pragmatic about it. I loved her and Dusty so much that I would like them to have a play where they’re the main characters instead. Well, as well as, rather than instead. This was a good play!
Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky, I’ve mentioned him already, he’s Polish and could be considered the comic relief. He could be, but I didn’t. There’s something poignant about a man fighting for a country he can barely speak the native language of. I know, Allies and all of that, it was common. But, no, this man was fighting for Britain, and his wife and their future together. And whilst he did provide brilliant comic relief, I do not want how well rounded and loving this character is, to be overshadowed by that comic relief.
Then there’s Teddy, who I’ve also already mentioned. He’s Pat’s husband, he’s a bomber pilot, and him and Pat have been married for 9 months. Then there’s the amazing Squadron Leader Swanson (Played by Philip Franks) who is all heart and no bite. Somehow, despite rankings and severe punishment for dissension in the ranks, Teddy gets away with calling him Gloria. Admittedly, I didn’t get the joke whilst I was watching it, but when I got back home and mentioned it, the response was “Oh, after the singer!” and I googled it.
Last but not least is the hotel owner, Mrs Oakes. Provider of the full English breakfast, and questionable sausages.
So, what’s the story about, with all these interesting characters? They’re all meant to have the night off, time to be with their loved ones, or in the case of Peter Kyle, seemingly sleep until he leaves the next morning. But far too soon, Squadron Leader Swanson bursts through the door with bad news: They’re needed for a raid.
Let me break into the retelling of the play to talk about the effects and the set. They were minimal, but affective. The set was laid out like a lounge at the hotel, desk to the right, couch in the centre. The backdrop was just a general outside with a window in front. In the night scenes, before they drew the curtains, it was a dark blue night scene, in the day it was a brighter blue with a bit of a visible garden. The absolute star of the stage, outshining even the great Philip Franks! Was the realistic fire at the forefront of the stage. I wish I had a photograph of it because it was indescribably beautiful.
There was nothing technologically advanced to portray living near an airstrip, and yet! Yet! Some strip of lighting to represent the Flarepath (Yeah, that’s when I twigged about the meaning of the play’s name too) through the window, and some very close, loud, sound effects, and a synchronised reaction as if fighter plane’s were passing by right over head (it’s called acting, Dahling!) makes you duck out of the way. Genius!
I’ll be sending the stage managers the bill for my new heart.
Back to the plot, and this is where I should say there’ll be spoilers, obviously: Whilst the RAF members were away, the crux of the play unravelled. Pat, to the shock of myself, had been in a relationship with Peter Kyle. She had left him to marry Teddy, despite still being in love with Peter Kyle, and, further revelation! After 9 months of being married to Teddy, wasn’t sure she loved him! Teddy, that is. How awful! And Peter Kyle wanted her back! And she wanted to go back! And, urged on by the very site of Peter Kyle, whose presence originally seemed to annoy her, she decided she was going to tell Teddy as soon as he got back. Teddy had no clue that they’d been in a relationship, the poor clueless sod! Was this going to end with her running away with Peter Kyle!?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: She realised how despondent she’d been towards Teddy. She married him on a whim, it was a war time romance, they barely knew each other and she’d never bothered to try. I weeped internally at the struggle. So after a brief bout of ill health on Teddy’s behalf (Like, very brief. All of 15 minutes in real time), she decided she did love him after all, and could love him even more, and stayed.
Poor Peter Kyle, you might say. I thought the same, until he tried to emotionally blackmail her and manhandled her about the place.
To change the pace a bit, there was a hell of a crash over at the aerodrome. And then only Teddy and Dusty arrived back – it wasn’t looking too good for Johnny. They waited all morning for him, but Squad Leader Swanson returned – after having stayed a while over night with the women to keep them company (see, all heart, that man!) – to tell them that, whilst they don’t want to give up hope, they all knew the chance of Johnny returning decreased the longer it took to find him.
In a random twist of fate, with Peter Kyle out for revenge, to ruin Pat and Teddy’s marriage, Doris, who knows Peter Kyle can speak french, asks him to read out a letter The Count had left for her in the event of him never returning. It was heartbreaking. The letter said how much The Count loved her and how he was sorry he never got to show her his homeland of Poland. I’m not doing it justice, but trust me, I weeped externally and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
Realising how much of an arsehole he was being, he decided to keep his affair with Pat a secret and subsequently left quietly.
I’m very glad to say that whilst the foreground of the set was very busy, my attention to things that move in the background allowed me to notice a mysterious figure in a big hat come through the door, unnoticed by the other characters.
Could it be?
Be still by murmurring heart! Yes it was! It was Johnny! Wonderful! My heart swelled. Metaphorically speaking.
After a repeated, hilarious retelling of how he survived (I won’t quote it because I won’t be able to do it justice, but, it’s brilliant), they celebrated their reunion with a good, lung beltering rendition of “We don’t want to join the air force”, and, proving that life sometimes changes within a second, a bright light came up and a loud noise hit, and the stage went black. And that was the end.
Wow. I mean, WOW. The acting all around was almost perfect in my books. I was a bit distracted with trying to think who *Peter Kyle* reminded me of and, alright, maybe Philip Franks didn’t get enough stage time for my liking. But for what it was, it was great. I really don’t know why there’s so many negative reviews. Not just for the Liverpool showing, but for the play over all. Boring? Pretentious? Patronising? What play where They watching!? Uncultured swines, the lot of them.
I don’t know how much of the original written play they stuck with, I don’t know if Rattigan evolved it during his time, or, like a few other plays, a new version emerged at some point and theatre producers have been putting that version on instead since it’s incarnation. All I know, is that this play features a variety of characters, and some are flawed, and some you don’t get to know enough of, but there is enough there to relate to them in some way. Or, in my case with Peter Kyle, to know you absolutely dislike them 100%, and that’s okay because it means the actor has done their job.
I do have one criticism: There was a change in cast which saw the character of Percy played by Holly Smith yet one of Dusty’s lines was “Percy, my lad”. And on one hand, I understand audiences are also meant to have a bit of imagination about things, on the other hand, it was jarring and it could have been adjusted with changing the line. It could be because the line continued on to threaten to physically discipline Percy for not minding their own business, and maybe that would have come across wrong with the character being played by a woman. But that also could have been adjusted. I’m sure, as theatre directors should know, not every line has to be exactly the same all the time.
The ending might be too abrupt for some people, as well. At first I was confused, unsure whether I liked the sudden ending, and then it dawned on me, hours later to be honest with you, what it (probably) signified. Ouch, talk about mood whiplash. Talk about delayed mood whiplash!
Anyway. Would I recommend this play? Yes. Especially if Philip Franks ever returns to the cast.
I would also recommend film makers pull a History Boys with this and make a film with the 2015 cast. I have no other cast to compare it to, but, trust me on this. It’s Hallinan and Franks or bust!