Rattigan classic revived

There are certainly challenges to overcome, but the great thing is that the entire cast has come to love the play.

Flare Path cast                 by Rosey Purchase
Flare Path cast by Rosey Purchase

Micki Darbyshire is directing Flare Path by Terence Rattigan for Stage-Door Theatre Company at Littlehampton’s Windmill Theatre from July 19-22 at 7.30pm.

"I really love this play," Micki says. "It is based, in part, on Rattigan’s own experience in the RAF during the Second World War. The play is a dramatic wartime romance set against the backdrop of a bomber squadron in the RAF.

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"It was chosen to celebrate Rattigan’s centenary in 2011. I wasn’t able to see it in the West End, but I did get to see it once it went on tour."

And it has been gratifying to watch the cast warm to the piece – despite the odd linguistic difficulty.

"The whole speech pattern in those days was very different, the way they spoke, the way they spoke to each other and the phrases they used. We had one of the youngsters having to say the line ‘Chalk it up for me’, and these days a 20-year-old just wouldn’t know what that meant. You have got to explain. And there is another line someone says about ‘fair bursting their stays with laughter.’ Again, you have got to translate. And we also had to cut out all references to smoking because you are not allowed to smoke on stage. But there are so many times it says ‘he lights another cigarette’, and obviously you can’t even use e-cigarettes because they wouldn’t burn down!

"With the language, the cast have just got to learn the language and what it means, and they have coped very well. You just don’t realise how those speech patterns have changed. It is like when you are watching an old film, and you are thinking ‘Nobody calls anybody a clot anymore!’ You’d just never say that. But some of it I remember. I remember growing up saying ‘golly’ and ‘gosh’. I was a golly-gosh girl!"

But the reward, once you take all these things together, is a fine play: "It is set in a hotel close to an air-force base. Various members of the RAF are staying in the hotel, and some of their wives join them. It’s a love story between one guy and his wife, a flight lieutenant and his wife who is an actress.

"It’s really a romance with all the tension of the RAF bombing raids going on. They go off on the raid and their wives are left there worrying if they will come back. One by one they do return, and there is a sense of relief, and then one of them doesn’t come back… More than 55,000 air crew died in the war, and their bravery was just amazing. They just flew mission after mission, and post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t recognised then. They just had to keep going or they would be called cowards if they didn’t. We owe them so much."

The production comes in Stage-Door Theatre Company’s 20th year of existence: "We generally do three plays a year, but that hasn’t happened this year. Due to ill health and casting problems, the first play this year had to be cancelled, so really this is our first play for 2017."

Tickets on 01903 856801.

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