It’s an perfectly understandable but misheld conception that the Whingers are difficult to please. Actually it’s deceptively untroublesome.
It’s the little things really: alighting at a theatre and ascertaining the show is 90 minutes with no hiatus; finding enough wine in the bottle for another couple of glasses when we thought we’d drained it; hearing on the wireless that another actress has been glorified as a Dame Commander of the British Empire.
But there’s nothing quite like discovering a new salutation with which to raise one’s pre and post show libations. And believe us, we’ve been practising diligently after inspecting this revival of Terrence Rattigan‘s Flare Path.
Try it. It trips off the tongue in the most profoundly satisfying manner. No other shibboleth is nearly as agreeable.
Flare Path is set during World War II in the Falcon Hotel near an RAF airbase. Wives of the airmen have convened hoping to spend sometimes very fleeting time with their spouses. To bedevil matters a Hollywood film star Peter Kyle (James Purefoy) has turned up to convince his ex-lover, actress Patricia Warren (Sienna Miller), to leave her bomber pilot husband Teddy (Harry Hadden-Paton). But the airmen could be called away on a mission in a jiffy and of course may never return. What price loyalty? There’s a war on don’t you know? What is a girl supposed to do?
Flare Path was first produced (by Binkie Beaumont no less!) in 1942 to perk up audiences during the war. So with all the traumas of planes being shot down and divided affections, we really should have guessed how events might unfold. But as we were so engaged with it all, or possibly because we were assiduously practicing “Tinkerty tonk!” in our heads, we’re gratified (if not a tad abashed) to be able to say we didn’t.
There’s plenty of war time nostalgia to wallow in: the blackout, neatly taped up windows, pink gins stiffer than the upper lips under which they pass, mentions of Carmen Miranda and Alice Faye and the gas masks carried at all times, leading Phil to recall wistfully his mother’s own gas mask case which she recycled as a her washday peg-bag.
“Who exactly is Sienna Miller?” asked a flummoxed Andrew as he flitted into another of his Keira Knightley moments. Phil flipped through her film and tabloid CV forbearingly but, having witnessed her on stage before in As You Like It, knew that she actually can hack it behind a proscenium. And so she affirms here with an impressively understated display of restrained emotion which is nicely matched by Purefoy.
Director Trevor Nunn has marshalled a tip-top squadron to support the marquee names of Miller, Purefoy and Sheridan Smith. There are spiffing turns from Sarah Crowden‘s easily upset hotelier Mrs Oakes, Joe Armstrong‘s tail-gunner Dusty (Rattigan based the play on his own experiences up the rear), Emma Handy as his wife Maudie, Clive Wood as the, presumably, closeted Squadron Leader (Gloria) Swanson and especially Hadden-Paton (godson of Fergie, the Duchess of York, don’t you know).
The nearest thing the Whingers have to a teacher’s pet, Sheridan Smith, suggests that we’ve done no immutable vandalism to her career, coming as she does freshly garlanded with a well-deserved Olivier Award for Legally Blonde. She will surely be up for another next year for her Countess Skriczevinsky (AKA Doris) who has the gift of being able to identify planes just by the sound of their engines; a kind of aural I-Spy. Smith wears her Forties syrup with aplomb and without a trace of gauze-lift (ripping wiggery by Michelle Piper). She’s both funny and tremendously touching. Indeed, what with the copious amounts of tears she emits added to those shed by Miller (plus Purefoy’s more, err, nasal emissions) we wished we had borrowed a couple of Umbrellas of Cherbourg for our front row seats*.
The experience has forced the Whingers to add a modification to their patented Lachrymometer (which measures the Whingers’ personal emotional engagement): the Whingers’ Patented Blubometer which measures the volume of body fluids evacuated by members of the cast.
The sniffling wasn’t confined to the stage and apart from the couple behind the Whingers who insisted on chatting through Act 1 you could (patrons sobbing into their tissues aside) hear a pin drop.
For once, Phil was disappointed no sweet wrappers were rustled, desperate as he was to bellow “Chocs away!”
All in all a jolly good show.
Tinkerty tonk chaps!
*26 (front 2 rows) day seats per show. £21 at the box office from 10am.