WITH their fine production of a superb play, Original Theatre’s Company renders Southend audiences a considerable favour by reviving Flare Path.

First staged in 1941, playwright Terence Rattigan’s depiction of war through the eyes of Bomber Command aircrew looked almost more like on-the-spot reporting than fictional drama.

Flare Path was hailed at the time as the finest British play to come out of the war. It was a mainstay of local theatre companies in the 1950s, but by the 1960s had become the subject of derision by the “angry young men” of British drama, who jeered at the emotional restraint of what they called “well-made plays”.

Now the wheel has come full circle. Flare Path’s depiction of the human cost and sacrifice of war comes across as sincere and timeless, while much of the work of the 60s generation of playwrights looks messy and self-indulgent.

This is one play where the set registers almost more powerfully than the characters who flow through it. The location is a country hotel in Lincolnshire, on the edge of an operational RAF airfield. Here aircrew – those of them that return in one piece - relax between missions, and share some time with their wives before the next journey into hell begins.

The action is dominated by the hotel’s huge picture window. From here, there is a view out across the airfield and its flare path – the double line of lights used to guide returning aircraft back to the safety of terra firms.

Full use is made of 21st century sound and light technology to evoke the 1940s ambience, the roar of planes taking off overhead, and the terrible vision of a burning Lancaster bomber in which the aircrew roast alive. The tension and horror form a counterpart to the stiff upper lip lingo of the characters. You swiftly come to realise that the oh-so-British understatement of the dialogue is a coping mechanism.

Two love stories are played out against this backdrop. The core drama involves Patricia Warren (Olivia Hallinan), torn between Teddy, the heroic and jolly RAF pilot she married on the rebound (Alistair Whatley), and the famous actor Peter Kyle (Leon Ockenden) who is the love of her life. Set against this is Countess Daisy (Siobhan O’Kelly), a humble barmaid married to a Polish pilot (Adam Best), who steels herself nightly for news of his death in action.

The overriding theme is the sacrifice of personal fulfilment in the cause of war, echoing those famous lines in the movie Casablanca: “it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

The most powerful and most pivotal moment in the play comes when the heroic pilot Teddy, on the surface so debonair and self-possessed, comes apart at the seams, and admits to cowardice, “lack of moral fibre”, and the need for a woman’s support. As Patricia realises where her duty lies, she comes out with her own hill-of-beans line: “I used to think that our private happiness was something far too important to be affected by outside things, like war or marriage vows, but beside what's happening out there (on the airfield) it's just tiny and rather cheap, I'm afraid."

Dramatically, the play is close to perfection. Plot, sub-plot and theme interweave with the skilled engineering of a Rolls Royce aero engine. Rattigan manipulates our emotions in a masterly way, but the emotions he arouses are ones that should be aroused.

Is this 1941 play dated? Only when awareness of the toll of war, and gratitude for the sacrifices of the wartime generation go out of fashion. That, and the sheer pleasure to be gained from such a beautifully written and constructed piece of drama. Performed sensitively and with fine professionalism by the cast, Flare Path is a not to be missed experience.

Flare Path is at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff, until Saturday November 21. Box office: 01702 351135.