After carving out a television career playing mouthy ladettes, Sheridan Smith seamlessly made the transformation to Laurence Olivier Award winning actress and won the hearts of chihuahua loving fans everywhere as Elle Woods. Now the actress has stepped it up another notch for Trevor Nunn’s production of Flare Path, stealing the show as a Second World War bride.
Playing the eternally good natured Doris, whose marriage to a Polish Flying Officer has promoted her from barmaid to Countess, her Northern charm and social ease make her the personification of the blitz spirit. In contrast, Sienna Miller’s Pat is a lost soul with one foot half-heartedly in the war and the other firmly in the past.
Holed up in a hotel near their husbands’ air force base, British stiff upper lip and Rattigan’s trademark repressed emotions are in full display and pushed to the limit on the arrival of Hollywood star and heartthrob Peter Kyle (James Purefoy). While Doris and the pilots’ reaction is one of disbelief and excitement, Pat’s is rather frostier as it becomes clear this is not the first time they have met.
As the men are ordered on an emergency bombing mission, those left behind must face a lonely night waiting for the uncertain return of their husbands, while Peter and Pat struggle with the ever increasingly blurred lines between loyalty and love.
Nunn’s engrossing production possesses a homely charm with an enviably cosy looking shabby chic set. What the production lacks in lavish style however, it more than makes up for with understated emotion and subtle direction. Set in the hotel’s cluttered lobby, the large taped up window serves as a constant reminder of what is beyond the front door.
While Peter and Pat’s relationship is at the centre of the play, the pair’s Hollywood glamour wears thin in the light of the relationships between Doris and husband Johnny – whose lack of the command of English proves popular with his doting wife and the audience – and the ‘Henpecked hero’ Dusty (Joe Armstrong) and Maudie (Emma Handy), whose awkward, self-conscious behaviour towards one another is heartbreakingly endearing when you witness moments of true affection.
In a lesson particularly poignant for our celebrity obsessed, Heat magazine reading times, Pat’s ‘half-witted’ husband Teddy (Harry Hadden-Paton), with his warmth and unreserved affection, is the true hero of the piece when pitched against an actor who may have fought wars and fallen in love on screen, but has no idea how to do it in the real world.
A nail-biting tear jerker, Flare Path may leave you longing for the days of unfiltered cigarettes and high maintenance hair but the overwhelming feeling in Nunn’s captivating production is one of fear, something that Doris’s war spirit only thinly veils.