BLOG - Graham Seeds talks about his upcoming performance in Flare Path

Jolly good show, chaps!

Graham Seed talks about Rattigan, romance and how wearing a uniform might give his wife ideas…

With the tractors and traumas of Ambridge well and truly behind him (he played Nigel Pargetter in the radio soap The Archers for an incredible 27 years), award-winning actor and broadcaster Graham Seed continues to work extensively. Just starting out on a national tour, Graham plays Squadron Leader Swanson in Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path, directed by Justin Audibert.

“It’s going very well and we have a terrific cast,” beamed Graham, a self-confessed Rattigan fan.

“As an actor I am really enjoying it because Rattigan writes such good characters; he just didn’t write bad parts. One of his best plays is The Deep Blue Sea and this has early elements of that. It’s rather delightful and I like the play enormously.”

Based on Rattigan’s own experiences as a tail gunner during World War II, the play is rooted in wartime Britain, where the life-and-death existence of the RAF bomber crews, and their wives and sweethearts who were on tenterhooks awaiting their return, created a permanent state of high anxiety. The story tells of former actress Patricia, the wife of RAF pilot Teddy. When Patricia’s ex‐lover and Hollywood idol Peter arrives out of the blue her emotions are thrown into turmoil and the survival of her marriage to Teddy becomes uncertain. As the conflict rages in the skies above, on terra firma feelings simmer, threatening to become every bit as explosive.     

A romance with shades of Brief Encounter then? Graham nodded. “She has to decide what she’s going to do, but it does have humour, too. It’s a very evocative and powerful play.

 “My character is quite funny and rather charming. He’s a frightfully good chap; full of that stiff upper lip phlegm.”

But in pitching his performance Graham has had to take care not to stray into parody. “If you did it wrong you’d be into Black Adder or Monty Python territory, which you don’t want at all.”

But it’s not just the good of the play that Graham is mindful about; he clearly has great respect for the real life pilots who carried out such dangerous missions.

“These boys were incredibly brave and they understated the danger always. The play is set against the backdrop of planes taking off and not coming back and at one point my character says: ‘we do owe these boys something.’ You can see why Churchill loved it. The Great War was so ghastly that it became romantic, but in the Second World War far more civilians were bombed.”

Mixing history with an intriguing story gives it broad appeal and the cast are delighted that Flare Path is attracting audiences of all ages.

“It’s definitely a play that is suitable for all the family and I do hope that lots of young people will come to see it,” said Graham, who admitted that these days he isn’t feeling as sprightly as he once was.

“I am suddenly feeling my age,” he confided. For years you’re the youngest in the company and now I’m suddenly the oldest – I’m about twenty years older than everyone else!”

But there’s something about this particular production that has had a rejuvenating effect on Graham. Botox? A bit of a nip-and-tuck? As it transpires nothing so drastic.

“I know it sounds slightly immature for a sixty-five-year-old man to say it, but it’s quite nice to put on an air force uniform. I look pretty chipper,” he teased, agreeing that any fella in a military uniform looks instantly dapper, even if they look like a bag of spanners. Not that Graham does, I hastily reassured him. Laughing off the unintended insult he said:

“It’s like evening dress – if you’re a woman and you suddenly look at your old man in evening dress you say ‘goodness he polishes up well!’ When my wife sees me in my RAF uniform I hope she thinks that there’s life in the old dog yet!” 

Certainly on the work front he continues to have offers lined up and, although he is best remembered for The Archers, his CV is crammed with credible theatre, film and TV credits. “That’s because I’m so old,” he twinkled. “I’ve ducked and dived; I’m what they call a jobbing actor.”

As for life on tour, Graham doesn’t mind living out of a suitcase in the least.

“It’s rather romantic and like being with a family. For me, as an older member of the company, there’s a responsibility to make sure that everyone’s happy. But it’s a lovely way to see friends in other parts of the country and to visit wonderful theatres.”

Asked to name the theatres around the country that he is most looking forward to playing, Graham said: "It’s always lovely to return to theatres you have enjoyed before, so places like Derby are always a pleasure."

With all the schlepping about he does for work, how does Graham relax?

“I find it very hard to relax,” he confessed. “I do What the Papers Say every other Sunday, so don’t get many Sundays off. You always worry about your next job and even at sixty-five I’m always worried that I’ll be found out. But I’m actually pretty content. Getting older makes you less ambitious; there are more important things, like your health. So now I am absolutely thrilled to play good supporting roles and to really enjoy them.”

Anxious that he doesn’t come across as “worthy” (he doesn’t), Graham believes that there is a duty to tour good plays around the country, especially to unsubsidised theatres.

Speaking of which, it was time for him to head off to transform himself into a fine young man in uniform for the evening performance.

 “I’m revving up for chocks away,” he grinned, before adding: “It’s not a bad life.” 

Indeed. And he’s a jolly good egg. A jolly good egg in a jolly good show. Go and see for yourself.

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