Reviewed – 24th October 2020
“The Watermill once again proves it deserves its long held reputation for inventive productions with this pacey and enchanting show”
The magic of theatre lives on at the second indoor show staged post-lockdown by the Watermill Theatre at Newbury. This socially distanced two-hander is another creative success for the celebrated theatre which is buried deep in the rustic Berkshire countryside.
This revival of Ade Morris’s affectionate tribute to the first woman to fly the Pacific alone is told as a series of entertaining vignettes taken from the life of the pioneering Hull-born aviatrix, played by Hannah Edwards with an engaging radiance. Her shining characterisation of the determined young flyer has a winning quality which is well-matched by the performance of Benedict Salter (billed just as ‘The Man’) who zippily takes on some nine or so supporting roles, including a head scarf-wearing landlady and Amy’s dashing husband Jim Mollison. He also plays a kind of painful threnody on the ‘cello which makes a bridge between the lighter episodes and the airborne unravelling which leads to her end.
Together the two performers give a fascinating portrayal of what it was to be the world’s first celebrity flying couple, who could expect crowds eight deep when they flew in after each new pioneering airborne achievement.
The prelude to Amy Johnson’s tragic end on a relatively mundane flight from Prestwick to Oxford in January 1941 forms the backbone of the show which benefits from a nicely nuanced stage and lighting design (Isobel Nicholson and Harry Armytage). The stage is not quite a black box but rather one of confining grey brick walls out of which Amy must climb to find her angels up in the sky. Amy’s aeroplane is evoked by a cleverly simple wheeled trolley which also serves as a typewriter carriage in a scene about her unhappy time in a typing pool.
A powerful soundtrack and some smart sound design (Jamie Kubisch-Wiles and Thom Townsend) both contribute to the success of the show.
As Director Lucy Betts comments in the programme, Amy Johnson was a beacon of hope, not just for the women that were able to follow her example but also for all who were inspired by her ability to pursue her dreams to the very end.
The Watermill once again proves it deserves its long held reputation for inventive productions with this pacey and enchanting show.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Photography by Pamela Raith
Watermill Theatre until 21st November
Previously reviewed at this venue: