Charlie blazes a trail in wartime survival drama

The cast of the 2016 National tour of Flare Path credit Jack Ladenburg.JPG
The cast of the 2016 National tour of Flare Path credit Jack Ladenburg.JPG
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Charlie G Hawkins grew up in front of the nation’s eyes, spending his teenage years playing Darren Miller in EastEnders.

Now he’s touring the country in Second World War tale Flare Path, alongside an acclaimed cast of theatre actors, and comes to Blackpool next week.

“I never went to drama school and I never trained,” he admits. “I wanted to, but it never happened.

“I grew up in TV, with eight years in EastEnders learning the craft on the job, but I always wanted to work in theatre; it’s the ultimate frontier as an actor.

“And I’ve been lucky enough first with Birdsong [a stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ wartime novel] and now Flare Path to be learning from people who have been acting longer than I’ve been alive.

“It’s great to be a small cog in an ensemble show.”

But the 25-year-old Londoner says the difference between the two styles is not as great as many imagine, while theatre allows more time to grow into a character and relationships during rehearsal and performances, TV does allow a second take when things don’t quite go to plan.

“You can’t beat the adrenaline of theatre though, it’s wonderful before the curtain goes up,” he said, like a true thespian whose heart seems to now lie firmly in the live medium.

“Even though you are doing the same show it’s a different experience each night, it’s hard to explain.”

Flare Path sees Charlie play the barman, at a hotel near and RAF base where the pilots spend their downtime between raids.

The play’s based on author Terrence Rattigan’s own experience of the war as an RAF tail gunner, and tells of the crews’ life-and-death existance, and their wives and girlfriends waiting their return.

“It’s when you get in front of an audience that you see what it’s all about,” Charlie explained.

“The play’s so relevant. It’s true life and was a big part of modern history.

“People relate because they had family who survived the war or have known someone.

“And although it’s set in the Second World War, the fact it’s the 100th anniversary of the First World War adds to that.

“With what’s going on today in the world, people are still seeing their loved ones in conflicts even now.

“My character’s quite cheeky and a little bit of a nuisance,” he added. “He’s a boy but a man before his time, and is desperate to be a pilot - they are his heroes.

“He sees it all as exciting and gets caught in the headlights, not seeing that these men are risking their lives and don’t want to be doing it.

“He goes on quite a journey and eventually hears the horrors of it all, which turns him into a man.”

Charlie pays tribute to Rattigan’s writing, which is based on his own experience as a tail gunner in RAF bomber planes.

“It’s very cleverly done,” he said. “You want to be told the horrors but in a light way. By setting the story in a hotel bar a lot is left to the imagination.”

The sense of excitement next week, when Flare Path opens at the Grand Theatre on Tuesday, will spread from the audience to the cast, according to Charlie, who’s looking forward to a return to the resort.

“Blackpool is one of the venues the cast is really looking forward to,” he revealed. “When I did Birdsong everyone was talking about that week and it’s the same again.

“It has that bit of history which means a lot to anyone from a performing background - and it will be fun too.”

* Flare Path, Grand Theatre, Blackpool, Tuesday to Saturday, February 23 to 27. Call (01253) 290190 for tickets.