Flare Path by Terence Rattigan

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 14 October 2012
Written in 1941, Flare Path involves a love-triangle between a famous film-star Peter Kyle (Rupert Penry Jones), a fellow-actor Patricia Graham (Ruth Wilson), and Patricia's husband Teddy Graham (Rory Kinnear), a pilot charged with the responsibility of making daily sorties to defend the country from the Luftwaffe. 
The story might seem a little hackneyed these days, and the characters a little old-fashioned - for example, the cantankerous hotel-keeper Mrs. Oakes (Una Stubbs), and her ever-reliable 'waiter' Percy (David Hartley).  But what redeems this play, and transforms it into compelling entertainment over seven decades after its first performance, is Rattigan's astonishing gift for characterization.  Perhaps uniquely among the dramatists of his day (even though Noel Coward ran him a close second), he understood the psychology of people under stress, and how they strove to maintain a good-humoured facade as a way of coping with it.  This was particularly true of Teddy, who enjoyed the bonhomie that prevailed amongst his fellow aircrew members, and tried to sustain a similar spirit while talking to his wife.  However the strain became too much for him, as he revealed to Patricia - perhaps for the first time - the agonies he experienced, whenever he embarked on an expedition.  This scene could have appeared mawkish, but in Jeremy Herrin's production it was absolutely spell-binding: I particularly admitted Kinnear's breath-control, as he revealed Teddy's true character.
Penry Jones was equally brilliant as the actor Peter.  Having spent his entire life in Hollywood maintaining a facade of stardom, he was likewise forced to face the truth about himself.  Having returned to Britain in the hope of persuading Patricia to run away with him, he suddenly understood the futility of his task.  In a wartime atmosphere, where no one knew how long they would live, it was more important to maintain some kind of stability: wives should stay with their husbands, no matter what.  Peter understood this; and although this decision condemned him to a life of perpetual isolation, he willingly accepted it.
The production ended happily with a communal sing-song enjoyed by all the characters - except for Peter.  This seemed somehow fitting: no one knew how long they might last, but they nonetheless decided to enjoy the pleasures of the moment.