I promised myself – and, in fact, you – that I wouldn’t go and see Flare Path, the latest example of celebrity stunt casting, after the awfulness that was The Children’s Hour. But in the end the facts that it’s just around the corner, and that the Theatre Royal has excellent sightlines (if the tiniest foyer in the world), and that differentkate wanted to see it too, all combined to persuade me.
And, well, it was excellent. One of the best plays I’ve seen in as long as I can remember, and completely not overwhelmed by the stunt casting, which you forget more or less as soon as you’ve spotted Sienna Miller, who is fine, and Sheridan Smith, who is outstanding.
I used to find Sheridan Smith annoying, because I had only seen her in annoying BBC3 shows like Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, and Grown Ups. Then I saw her in Little Shop of Horrors and Legally Blonde and realised that she’s really an excellent comic actress as well as being a lovely singer, but I still had reservations about her ability to carry off a serious, meaty dramatic role.
Well, this role has a fair bit of comedy in it but it has a lot more besides, and Smith rises to the challenge effortlessly. Her Doris, Countess Skriczevinsky, is so completely accomplished and believable and touching that she’d be the star of the show, if only everyone else weren’t almost as good. This is a true ensemble piece, and part of the reason it works so well is that it’s just a very good play; its mechanics and interplays perfectly crafted and balanced, so that it’s only afterwards that you realise how very well-written it is.
It’s also beautifully staged, on the Theatre Royal’s monster of a stage. The very weight and heft of the scenery bears down upon the action, scoring it into your brain with a formal dignity which is perfectly suited to the drama. And the changes of mood, the switches from comedy to tragedy and back again, are so elegantly done, with such lightness of touch, that I found myself laughing and crying all at once, which was a novel but not unpleasant sensation.
Flare Path has six weeks to run and I deliberately haven’t told you what it’s about because I think you should go and see it blind, like I did, although it won’t spoil it for you if you already know the story. And next time I complain about stunt casting, you can remind me of this and tell me to stop whining.