Flare Path, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London

Sienna Miller shows her flare in Rattigan revival

Given Sienna Miller's dismal track record in this neck of the woods (a wooden Celia in As You Like It in 2005), her return to the West End seemed about as welcome as yet another juke-box musical or a further hike in the outrageous price of an interval drink. But her performance as the conflicted actress-heroine of Flare Path is genuinely heart-tugging in the subtle way it communicates this young woman's struggle between patriotic duty and extra-marital desire (in fact it makes those terms seem altogether too bald).

That's just one of the many marvels in Trevor Nunn's richly entertaining and beautifully judged revival of this theatrical rarity. His production is a most valuable contribution to the current Terence Rattigan centenary celebrations. Written in 1941, staged in 1942 and clearly informed by its author's experiences of the RAF as a tail-gunner in the Second World War, Flare Path was the work which proved that Rattigan (who had not had a real stage success since French Without Tears in 1936) was not a one-hit wonder.

The action is set in a hotel near a Bomber Command airbase in Lincolnshire. In a Forties hairdo and high-waisted trousers, Miller cuts a striking figure as Patricia, an actress who, after a whirlwind wartime romance, finds herself married to Harry Hadden-Paton's superb Teddy, a boyish, endlessly affable Flight Lieutenant with the deceptive manner of an upper-middle-class chump. On this particular weekend, Patricia had been planning to tell him of her decision to leave him for her former lover, Peter Kyle, an English-expat Hollywood star. Her resolve is weakened, though, and Rattigan sets this painful predicament in the context of other tricky war-time relationships. The luminous Sheridan Smith keeps bringing delighted laughter and a lump to the throat in her superb portrayal of Doris, the down-to-earth Lincolnshire barmaid elevated to foreign aristocracy by her marriage to Mark Dexter's wonderfully quixotic, Anglophonically-challenged Polish Flying Officer, Count Skriczevinsky. His first wife and his children have been slaughtered in Europe. Will his bond with Doris survive the war? Smith wrings your heart as she conveys the pluck and refinement of spirit of this superficially common little woman.

Everything that could be contrasted in the lurid acrylics of melodrama in Flare Path is saved by moments where the chosen medium seems to be the smudged subtlety of drawing in coloured chalk. This is true not least of Miller's performance. There's a riotously funny, knees-up happy ending – an occasion into which, after the lonely pang of watching the Hollywood lover depart, Miller's Patricia allows herself to be absorbed by authentically life-like degrees. A terrific evening.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas