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Criterion Theatre
Flare Path (2018)
Written by Terence Rattigan
Sat 30th June to Sat 7th July

“I was very moved by the play,” said Prime Minister Winston Churchill. “It’s a masterpiece of understatement.

But we are rather good at that, aren’t we?”

Director – Richard Warren
Production Photos
Countess Skriczevinsky – Cathryn Bowler
Peter Kyle – Chris Firth
Mrs. Oakes – Anne Houston
Dusty Miller – Michael Hammond
Percy – James Smith
Count Skriczevinsky – Dave Crossfield
Flight-Lieutenant Teddy Graham – Ted Mcgowan
Patricia Graham – Leonie Slater
Maudie Miller – Lilian McGrath
Squadron Leader Swanson – Phil Reynolds
Corporal Jones – Pete Kendall
Assistant Director – Katie-Anne Campbell
Stage Manager – Pete Kendall
Set Designer – Simon Sharpe
Wardrobe i/c – Maureen Liggins
Prompter – Helen Williams
Lighting Designer – Karl Stafford
Sound Designer – Dave Cornish
Props i/c – Les Rahilly
Props Team – Pam Coleman
Wardrobe Team – Denise Slater
Wardrobe Team – Rowena Tye
Artwork Design – Paul Hancock
Props Team – Frances Dixon
Props Team – Nikki Gabriel
Props Team – Sue Hadlum
Props Team – Nancy Sylvester
Set Build i/c – Terry Cornwall
Set Build – Jess Cornwall
Set Build – Frances Dixon
Set Build – Jenson Jones
Set Build – Nicola Newman
Click to describe this role ... – Judy Sharpe
Set Build – Simon Sharpe
Set Build – Betty Stoeva
Set Build – Mandy Sutton
Set Build – Mike Waterson
Set Build – Kevin Woods
Set Painting – Paul Chokran
Set Painting – Pam Coleman
Set Painting – Janice Everton
Set Painting – Judy Talbot
Sound Rehearsal Operator – Ellen Sharkey
Sound Operation – Dave Cornish
Lighting Operation – Lily Barber
Lighting Operation – Sarah Basford
Lighting Operation – Istvan Molnar
The Play

Lincolnshire, 1941. Home to RAF bomber squadrons, flying high-risk nightly sorties, deep into German territory. At this stage of World War II, the survival rate for bomber crew members was 50%. But what was the toll on the people they left on the ground, night after night: crew mates, wives, lovers, friends? The people who lived under the flight path, counting the crews out into the night sky, and anxiously waiting to count them back in as dawn broke?








Flare Path is a moving tribute to the heroism of the young bomber crews who flew hazardous overnight missions during World War 2 - and the bravery of the loved ones who waited for them to return each morning. Based on his own experiences as a young Flight Lieutenant, Rattigan's classic ensemble drama deftly wraps the wartime tensions around a poignant love triangle that pits patriotic duty against personal desire.








This production marks the centenary of the founding of the Royal Air Force in 1918. It has particular local relevance because during the war, Baginton Airport was used as a Polish bomber base, and part of the local churchyard is devoted to Polish airmen who lost their lives flying from there.








We are proud to dedicate this production to Geoff Bennett, the founder of the Criterion Theatre and who from 1941 served as RAF air crew member and navigator throughout the war.








There will be smoking on stage under The Smoke-free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007.





Review by Nick Le Mesurier

Terence Rattigan is back in favour. After languishing for years, dismissed as the author of ‘well-made plays’ and associated with a kind of British stiff upper lip mentality, he seemed out of step with a more expressive age than the class-ridden, overly formal era during which he reigned supreme amongst British dramatists.  Some things are worth reviving, for leaving aside the ‘patriotic bilge’ of nationalistic propaganda, referred to in this intense drama about small lives caught up in great events, there are few who can milk a situation for its emotional impact so well. Rattigan explores the territory between public duty and private anguish like no-one else.
Flare Path was written in 1941 and draws upon the author’s own experience as a tail-gunner.  This was one of the most dangerous stations of the second world war, and the life expectancy of those who took it up was short. Rattigan survived, thank goodness, but the awareness of imminent death runs throughout this play.
All the action is set offstage, as it were, in the lounge of a Lincolnshire hotel, close to an air base. There the chaps retire to greet their wives who have come over for the weekend. It should be a joyous occasion, but there are complications. The catalyst in this otherwise ordinary situation is Peter Kyle (Chris Firth), a Hollywood film star with whom he and Patricia Graham (Leonie Slater) had an affair before she married Flight-Lieutenant Teddy Graham (Ted McGowan), a bomber pilot stationed nearby. Kyle has come to reclaim his affair and to face down her husband in a desperate act of bravado.
What Rattigan does so well is wrest every drop of emotion out of the constraints imposed by things like duty, loyalty, fidelity, respect. None of these are easy to those whose sensibilities are made acute when they are driven by human passions.
Ted McGowan was very good as Flight Lieutenant Graham, a young man (they were so young) forced into the terrifying responsibility of commanding a bomber crew, many of whose members were older and more experienced. Dave Crossfield gave a charming portrayal of Count Skriczevinsky, a Polish officer who can barely speak English, whose plane goes missing on a night raid and whose absence is one of the main threads of the story. For me, Phil Reynold’s part as Squadron Leader ‘Gloria’ Swanson was one of the most moving. His character’s role was to watch his boys go out and hope they came back again. It was a role of little action but enormous feeling. Michael
Hammond takes on the working-class role as Sergeant Miller, a tail-gunner in Teddy’s plane, whose faith in his commander is touching. Thankfully he doesn’t play him as a cheerful chappie, but as one burdened by a heavy responsibility yet who is in there all the way. Then there’s Peter Kyle (Chris Firth), the outsider, looking for a role in life. He gave a powerful, sometimes bitter performance as the cynical man destined to lose.
It’s when these fellows come up against their women, for whom one might say they were fighting, that the real dramas emerge. Leonie Slater gave a terrific performance as Pat Graham, a woman deeply divided between her love for Peter and her affection for her husband. She said so much with a mere glance. Then there’s Cathryn Bowler as Countess Skriczevinsky, a blowsy barmaid who once took pity on her Count and married him in a rush, though she still can’t pronounce his name. She’s great fun, but when her husband’s plane goes missing she too enters another realm with the power of her barely suppressed emotions. The humour of the play is centred on – one might say at
the expense of - the fusty landlady, Mrs Oakes (Anne Houston) and the raucous, nagging wife of Sgt Miller (Lilian McGrath).
It’s true that the play is made up of characters whom one might regard as stereotypes. But they have only become so after the event. They, and the situations they faced, were once very real.  They became so again on stage tonight. Flare Path is long (three hours) but there are many bright lights along the way.


Review by Chris Arnot

The Old Vic,the National Theatre, the Haymarket and now the Criterion – the Terrence Rattigan revival goes on. Tossed away by the Angry Young Men of the post-warperiod, he has been rediscovered like a precious heirloom found covered in dustat the back of a drawer.         

Flare Path is a classic example of the stiff-lipped understatement that is the trademark of his nonetheless impeccably crafted plays. And Rattigan was well qualified to write it, having served as a tail-gunnerin the RAF.     

There’s a scene where Sergeant Miller (a former bus-conductor as it happens) is asked what it’s like being a tail-gunner. “All right,” he says through his alter-ego Michael Hammond. “A bitcold.”  A bit dangerous too, one imagines. But nobody would admit that in the residents’ lounge of a small hotel on the edge of a Lincolnshire airfield in 1941. Particularly when there were ladies present.   

It was all about maintaining a veneer of civilistion at a time when civilisation itself was under the direst of threats. 

Beneath the surface of that veneer, there are all sorts of tensions. Tensest of all is a love triangle involving a Hollywood star back in his home country, his actress lover and her husband who is risking his neck at regular intervals – in real life rather than on-screen.   

Ted McGowan can be proud of his Criterion  debut as Flight-Lieutenant Graham. He puts on a good show does Teddy ale-fellow-well-met, rarely without a bottle of red-label Bass in his hand and a forced smile on his face. Until, that is, his underlying terrors make a brief but touching appearance.  As his wife Patricia, Leonie Slater goes through an extraordinary array of facial expressions, torn as she is between marital duty and lingering lust -- for Peter Kyle, that is. He’s the famous actor who has breezed in to see her on his way to London. Chris Firth plays him with an effortless swagger. His in built sense of self-assurance, however, begins to fade as the reality of war begins to dawn. Not to mention his exclusion from it.   

Anne Houston is imperious as a haughty hotel manageress of her time and Cathryn Bowler is convincing as a Polish Countess with a Lincolnshire accent. Well, she was a humble barmaid until she married a Polish airman who just happened to be a Count.     

Three hours (albeit with two intervals) seem to fly by – all too literally at times as the roar of aircraft engines intrude menacingly on the hotel lounge.            

Flare Path is a reminder of the sacrifices made by Rattigan’s tight-lipped generation and the freedoms they guaranteed for angry young men and women to rant at will for generations to come.

Flare Path is on at the Criterion until Saturday July 7.


Review by Peter McGarry available at: 

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