Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Bang on for wizard show

Flare Path

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


TERENCE Rattigan's Flare Path is very much a play of its time, a romantic drama written and set in the darkest days of the Second World War.

It is fixed in the aspic of its moment, which is not to say it is dated or showing its age, far from it, this is a play, when done well, which is a snapshot of the times and attitudes on 1942  when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany.

And The Nonentities have done it very well starting with an imaginative set built by Keith Higgins and Mike Lawrence and their team to create the lounge of The Falcon, a small hotel next to the bomber base at Milchester.

Accents, nicely clipped at the posher end, are maintained well and Joe Harper, as Count Skriczevinsky, deserves a special mention for his convincing Polish accent and broken English throughout.

The story is simple. Wives have come down for a romantic weekend with their bomber crew husbands and then film star Peter Kyle, played by Stefan Austin, turns up. Kyle is British born but a naturalised American so legally he is classed as an alien but it is not only in the eyes of the law that he his an outsider.

Countess and Count Skriczevinsky, played by Laurie Pollitt and Joe Harper

In the emotional intensity of war he appears rather selfish and superficial against the full of life, always close to death airmen.

Kyle had an affair with Patricia Graham, a well known actress, before she married Fl Lt Teddy Graham in a whirlwind wartime romance while the bomber pilot was on a week's leave. The question is whether the affair ever ended and whether the marriage was a mistake.

Teddy is played with lolloping, boyish charm by Alex Forty although, presumably as a result of wartime shortages, his uniform could have been a tad more generous, although even that added to childlike view of the world about him.

He seems to go through life like an overgrown sixth-former on a school outing but when another side of bomber pilots, the darker side wracked be the strains and fears of mortality, come to the fore Forty gives us an effective display of combat stress, made more telling by the contrast with his get-the-drinks-in, life and soul public personae.

No one can imagine what went through the minds of bomber crews where the survival rate was less than that of the average infantry officer in World War I; 44.4 per cent died, but Forty gives us a hint of what it must have been like heading off into battle with only a slightly better than evens chance of coming home.

Karen Whittingham as his wife Pat could slip right into one of those 1940's black and white films with soft focus and voices cracking and breaking with emotion.

Her heart searching clash with Kyle in the wartime love triangle at the heart of the story took me straight back to those Sunday afternoon films on the old 405 line tellies of the 50s – clipped tones, quivering voices and gushing emotion - lovely stuff.

Pat, played by Phyllis Calvert in the original 1942 production, was about to start in a new play in London and entering a life centred around ops and missions is a new world unlike Doris, the countess, the former barmaid married to the Polish count, who is a resident at The Falcon, living nervously through every mission.

Doris, played by Laurie Pollitt, was another who could turn to tears at the drop of a hat and showed a splendid stiff upper lip when required. Her scene with Kyle, again, when tragedy strikes is quite moving as Kyle realises there is perhaps more to life than his sheltered and rather privileged existence.

Meanwhile among the lower orders we have Sgt Dusty Miller, like Rattigan, a rear gunner. Miller, played by James Stevens, knows his place and never quite joins in the exuberant fun of the officers he flies with.

From the ranks Sgt Dusty Miller played by  James Stevens.

His wife, Maudie, played by Nikki Fisher, is down to earth, taking it on the chin and getting on with it after being bombed out in London. She is never looking beyond the next bus and making sure she is back at work at the laundry on Monday.

Then we have the adjutant, Sq Ldr Swanson, played by Chris Clarke, a ground wallah who clucks around over his boys like a mother hen.

Queen of the roost though is  Mrs Oakes, played by Joan Wakeman, the landlady of The Falcon who never even comes close to a smile – she doesn't do genial jovial mine host. But she does get up in the early hours to ensure returning bomber crew have freshly cooked, hot breakfasts.

Support comes from Percy, the waiter, played by Dan Taylor, a youngster who lives on tittle tattle and rumour – a sort of early, DIY version of Twitter and Cpl Wiggy Jones, played by Chris Kay, who is very much a peripheral figure but is an interesting figure in that he was played in the original production by a very young George Cole of  Minder fame.

The play has various layers and the cast do a good job of building the tension of the pivotal action, the raid, including a crash on take-off, as well as displaying the jovial veneer adopted by aircrew to cover up the fears of combat.

The two main female leads show us two sides of relationships, one trapped in a triangle with an adoring husband the other facing the grim reality of war.

Credit to for Derek Taylor on lighting and David Wakeman on sound, who had a lot of cues to get right while Lynn Ravenill used a lot o clothing coupons to make sure costumes looked authentic.

Directed by Tori Wakeman, this is an excellent production of a period piece which never seems dated but takes you back to 1942 and life in the Second World War. The play had been turned down before it was finally produced at The Apollo in 1942 on the grounds people did not want to see a play about war in a war. It ran with great success for 18 months. Perhaps the fact it was written in the war, with Rattigan a serving airman in bomber command, meant that it had to have a happy ending but Rattigan does make you wait for it. And this production is worth the wait.To 12-10-13.

Roger Clarke

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