"I FIND ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances really interesting. It is exactly what the Second World War was for the vast number of people.”

Penned while he was serving as an RAF tailgunner and wireless operator, Flare Path was the beginning of a run of critical and commercial successes for Brighton’s Terence Rattigan, who had already established a name for himself through the 1936 play French Without Tears.

Last August, director Justin Audibert launched an extensive nationwide tour of the wartime story in Eastbourne to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and this month it comes to the Connaught Theatre in Worthing.

Despite its period setting, Justin feels the themes of the play are timeless. “I like plays about life and death,” he says. “Flare Path is as much about the women as the men.

“Sometimes Rattigan looks at a certain social milieu exclusively, but in this play it’s everyone from the upper classes to the working classes and petit bourgeois. There’s a real affection there – it’s exactly what a real bomber crew would be made up of.”

Set in a hotel not far from Bomber Command, Flare Path follows a weekend among a group of airmen and their wives on the eve of an unexpected raid over Germany. It focuses on a love triangle between West End actress Patricia, her bomber pilot husband Teddy and her one-time lover Hollywood actor Peter who unexpectedly returns to her life.

“Patricia couldn’t marry Peter in the US because his wife wouldn’t want a divorce,” says Justin. “She always felt he held a power over her – the difference with Teddy is that she has the balance of power as he idolises her. When Peter comes back and says he has got a divorce and wants her, she is in an impossible situation.”

Also playing a role in the story are Polish pilot Count Skriczevinsky and his former barmaid wife Doris, and working class tail gunner Dusty Miller whose wife Maudie has been bombed out during the Blitz.

“Patricia and Peter don’t quite get it,” says Justin. “They journey through the play in a totally different way. They are cosseted and in the play they suddenly experience real life.”

The play was penned and performed in 1942 while the war was still going on – with the conflict’s ending still in doubt. To capture the atmosphere and society of that time, the cast and director have worked with historical expert Tony Green – who guided them on a simulated Wellington Bomber mission – and a movement director who has helped them explore the society of the time.

“People would know each other’s class from how they held a pint of beer, a gin and tonic or pink gin,” says Justin. “The gender politics is so different – men would treat women in different ways, protecting them, slightly parading them and sheltering them.

“They were always offering their arm, or standing up when they came into a room. Watching that you get the richness of the world – it’s really fun to recreate.”

• Flare Path is at the Connaught Theatre, Union Place, Worthing, from Wednesday-Saturday January 27-30, matinees at 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday. Suitable for ages 12+. Tickets £24.50, £27.50, boxes £29; concs £22.50, £25.50, boxes £27; Friends £20.50, £23.50, boxes £25; opening night only: Friends £19.50. For details, phone 01903 206206 or visit worthingtheatres.co.uk.