With the centennial commemorating the Battle of Vimy Ridge set for 2017, and the war against terrorism still raging in the Middle East, Canada’s involvement in war efforts are still very much top-of-mind.
While not a Canadian story per se, Vancouver’s Slamming Door Artist Collective pays tribute to the men of Britain’s World War II RAF bomber crews and the women they left behind in a production of Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path.
Set in 1942, Flare Path takes place at the Falcon Hotel neighboring a Royal Air Force base in Lincolnshire, England. Inspired by Rattigan’s own experiences as a tail gunner in the Second World War, Flare Path depicts the emotions experienced by the RAF bomber crews and their partners.
“I’ve had this play in my pocket for a number of years,” says director, Genevieve Fleming. “It had a successful 2011 revival in London’s West End and I wanted to do a production of Flare Path at the Jericho Arts Centre which was originally built as an RAF rec hall, around the same time the play was written.”
One of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Places That Matter, the Jericho Arts Centre was built in 1940 when the surrounding lands were part of the city’s main military base. While several of the original buildings were torn down over the years, some do remain. The former junior ranks barracks is now a youth hostel, the officers’ mess the West Point Grey Community Centre, and of course, the old base recreation hall is home to the Jericho Arts Centre.
Location aside though, Fleming also saw an opportunity to involve a larger cast, in what she refers to as a “big play”.
“It has a cast of ten, and very much an ensemble piece,” she says. “People come and go, and the way Rattigan has structured the play gives the audience an opportunity to be part of a number of relationships rather than a single character track.”
A follow-up to the company’s guest production of A Doll’s House at Jericho last year, this year’s production similarly furthers the Collective’s mission.
“Our mandate is to provide strong roles for women, as well as directors and designers, and Flare Path feeds into that as well,” says Fleming.
Written 75 years ago, Fleming believes there is still much to say to audiences today about heart, relationships, and the need to balance the needs of society with the needs of the individual. It is also became a welcome challenge in finding what lies just beneath the written words.
“We’ve talked a lot about sub-text,” says Fleming. “Characters will say certain things, and there is often other things going on under the surface. As an actor I’ve always been really interested in that idea.”
With its mix of humour and drama, Flare Path has also challenged Fleming and her cast to find the right balance; one made more difficult with the production’s unconventional rehearsal process.
“We’ve been working around different actor’s availability which meant we had to do it out of sequence. Finding the right levels was a definite challenge,” she says. “Some sections are really funny, but then you find out you’re dying two pages later, and it gets very real.”
Research remains the mainstay for any period piece like Flare Path, but it has been helped by having a cast member who is war history buff.
“One of our actors, Ashley O’Connell, his hobby is wartime facts and history so he will pop up with little bits of trivia during rehearsals that are fun, and interesting.”
Flare Path plays the Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery St, Vancouver) from October 6 to 22. Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets.