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Justin Audibert’s Path to Flare Path

Justin Audibert is a brilliant young director whose career has taken him from Sheffield University to West Yorkshire Playhouse, via Told by an Idiot to the RSC and National Theatre Studio and now his latest production of Terrence Rattigan’s Flare Path visits Blackpool Grand Theatre at the end of February.

Recently seen in London’s West End, this major revival is produced by the Original Theatre Company who were behind the hit touring production of Birdsong. Having worked with Justin on previous projects, I was keen to find out more about what had drawn him to direct this play for the second time and how he feels about the tour – I gave him a ring and, as he remains one of the nicest people in theatre, he was happy to chat…

I really enjoyed coming back to it, a new cast brings a whole new energy and a range of different interpretations but even though it’s only been six months since I last worked on it – you are a new artist – you’re doing a completely different job so it never feels like you’re doing the same things again – you’re not.

Paul Hunter says ‘never try and make the same show twice’ – I’m inspired by that so I’m always doing something different in some shape or form. My job as a director is to be inside the world of the play; to get inside the writers head, to feel and think what they do and base your decisions on that. When I did The Jew of Malta for the RSC recently – I spent a lot of time thinking ‘What would Marlowe do?’ I literally woke up at 2am with an answer one time!

With Terence Rattigan it’s a much more delicate sensibility – it’s as much about what is not said as what is said; he is a master craftsman of a playwright, he writes beautifully constructed and accurately detailed set pieces.

Although he fell out of popularity with the critical press for a while, actors never went off him – they all say he’s wonderful. Rattigan always had a much more ambiguous relationship with audiences than people realise, it’s true that he had four simultaneous plays on in the West End but he also had some flops too and we forget that. John Osborne [who was credited with this fall from favour when his kitchen-sink drama Look Back in Anger hit the stage] actually really loved Rattigan plays and they maintained a correspondence throughout their lives and, of course, eventually Osborne fell out of favour too and that’s worth remembering – theatre is really faddy. To use a sporting adage ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’ some writers are able to span time and maintain relevance.

Sometimes it can feel challenging to maintain a direct relationship with audiences in large proscenium arch theatres but Rattigan’s plays were written for the picture frame setting and so they stage perfectly – but we still always have to find new ways to connect. It’s absolutely vital to me to make theatre for young people, so finding ways to have that direct connection with the audience is a really important part of everything that I do.

Flare Path is set in war time and I think we have some idea of what that was like for the pilots through other stories, films etc that we’ve already seen – its terrifying and heroic – but the stories of those that were left behind are also fascinating. I think young people can relate to the stakes of these peoples’ lives – the sheer life and death-ness of it but also to those who were left behind – for me that’s the interesting focus of this play – it’s as much about the women as the men.

Rattigan writes really accurately about the breaking down of the class system and about relationships – there’s such a deep abiding affection between some of the soldiers and I don’t want to give too much away but homosexuality was inevitably talked about during rehearsals and I feel like its down to the audience to make that call – but certainly it feels like, in our production, everybody is in love with someone else; someone they shouldn’t or cant be in love with.

Touring is notoriously difficult – some actors just won’t do it and that’s tricky but I feel that there’s a shared responsibility for that. It’s really hard to anticipate whether a show will sell well from venue to venue and that’s terrifying but theres a responsibility on the part of the venues too; to make the company feel welcome. It’s just little things like having a clean dressing room, when the management come and say hello and wish you well, leave you a little bottle of water maybe, when you can see posters of your show out and about and get linked up with twitter or whatever – it all makes a big difference – 70% of theatres do that brilliantly – I’m sure Blackpool does!”

Justin is modest about his achievements and career trajectory to date, but there is no doubt that Flare Path which plays at Blackpool Grand Theatre from Tuesday 24 to Saturday 27 February will be an intelligently staged and thoughtfully executed piece. Tickets start at just £12.50 for under 26s and are available to buy online via phone 01253 290190 or in person from Grand Theatre Box Office.

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    Melanie Whitehead is the Creative Director of The Old Electric, Blackpool's newest theatre. She previously worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

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