Is playing ‘conflicted women’ a niche for acctress Olivia Hallinan? Larkrise to Candleford star admits she seeks roles that excite her
Larkrise to Candleford star Olivia Hallinan, appearing in Flare Path in Ipswich soon, talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage about playing conflicted women.
“That’s true, I never really thought about that,” laughs Hallinan when I point out she’s known for playing conflicted women; be it Larkrise to Candleford’s Laura Timmins and Sugar Rush’s Kim to her latest role as Patricia in Flare Path.
“You could say that’s my niche maybe, playing conflicted people,” she jokes, adding the best characters are those that have to make choices or go on an emotional journey. “I always seek roles that excite me. I think characters that have a certain vulnerability to them are always great to play, the best roles tend to be quite conflicted.”
Patricia definitely ticks that box.
Flare Path, presented by The Original Theatre Company, is based on celebrated playwright Terence Rattigan’s experiences as a tail-gunner during the Second World War.
Ex-actress Patricia’s marriage to RAF pilot Teddy is tested when she rekindles her relationship with her ex-lover, Hollywood idol Peter Kyle. An unexpected and dangerous mission over Germany puts Patricia at the centre of an emotional conflict as unpredictable as the war in the skies.
“She’s quite a conflicted lady,” laughs Hallinan. “Patricia’s gone to the RAF base where her husband is going off on air-raids, she’s gone to (tell him) she’s leaving and Peter comes back to help her tell him. The the turn of events over the night really change her mindset and she struggles between her duty and her heart and loving two people really for different reasons.”
The play brings home the reality of the life or death scenario facing not only the RAF bomber crews but also their wives and sweethearts who were left waiting for their return.
“There’s a 50% chance they wouldn’t come back. You’ve got these women just drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, with a very stiff upper lip, saying ‘everything’s fine, we’ll see them again’. That’s what I think is a challenge in the play, because a lot’s unsaid,” says Hallinan.
“Tthey’re obviously thinking the opposite of what they’re saying; no-one really wants to deal with the fact their husbands might not come home. My character particularly, you gradually see her anxiety, she gets worse and you gradually see her crumble under the reality of the situation.”
Written in 1941 and first staged in 1942, she feels the play has aged very well and is still as relevant now as it was then.
“It’s going really well, audiences seem to like it, we’re getting good feedback and I’m enjoying it. Often people say to me ‘how do you do the same play every night’ but it feels like you’re doing a new play because there’s so many layers to his (Rattigan’s) writing, so much to discover, we’re discovering things all the time. It never gets boring. His writing is a gift to act. His characters are great, very well-rounded and give you lots of freedom as an actor to explore the text.”
Patricia is very different from Larkrise’s Laura. She must have been offered loads of period pieces when the popular BBC drama - adapted from Flora Thompson’s trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels - finished after four series?
“Often you are put in a particular box in this industry, that’s one of the reasons actually I did a load of theatre after Larkrise because (A) it was a challenge and (B) I could play roles that were very removed from that character, to prove to myself I could do it and also to other people.
“I think variety is great and all the actors I admire kind of mix things up. I like comedy, I think some nice light-hearted comedy after this (would be nice). Saying that, it’s important to note that Terence Rattigan plays, particularly this one is heavy and very poignant but it’s also very funny, very uplifting,” she stresses.
“It’s a play that’ll make you cry and laugh and I think they’re the best types of plays.”
Hallninan, who loves discovering new places while touring, describing herself as a bit of a gypsy, wasn’t surprised Larkrise ended after four series.
“Not really, I think that’s quite a good life for a series like that. It still had the viewing figures, it was still popular, the BBC just wanted to make something else,” she laughs. “Sometimes good things have to come an end and I think we’d done a lot with the storylines and the characters... I learnt so much from that job and met some amazing actors. I will always look back very fondly on that role and be grateful.
Flare Path runs October 19-24 at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre.~