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:
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
Reviewed – 29th July 2019
“a breathless surrealist caper that is sustained by its own unimpeachable internal logic”
Dressed in matching red boiler suits labelled with their names (Ex, Why and Zed), three chums work themselves up into an existential lather over a lost woodlouse, named Euan. So terrifying is their off-stage boss who entrusted them with this creature, every phone call from her (and there are many) ratchets up the tension exponentially, as they reason that she will likely demand a human sacrifice if Euan is not forthcoming. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the characters spend their dwindling time questioning their circumstances, arguing about their instructions and interrogating each other’s accounts of previous meetings with the boss, in mounting terror.
The neurotic centre of this absurdist plot is Why played by George Craig who opens the piece already in the highest imaginable state of angst, having mislaid Euan from his matchbox. Somehow, he manages to get ever more worked up over the hour, sucking the steadier Ex (George Bailey) and affably bovine Zed (Hal Darling) into a vortex of comedy mania, generating a mist of nervous sweat in the stifling Lion and Unicorn Theatre.
Although the storyline is the concoction of all three, George Bailey as writer, makes it gel through a cleverly balanced trio of characters. Ex, supplied with a whistle to denote his managerial status, creates a classic double act with Why’s childlike distress. Zed then fits neatly between them with his own brand of dim waffle. The rapidly firing dialogues create a stream of laughs, puncturing every moment of tension with ludicrous changes of tone and subject. Even as their moment of doom draws close they find time to discuss calmly subjects such as how one learns to masturbate or the primary determinants of pizza delivery times.
Since 2006, the Camden Fringe has expanded its mission of supporting performers not ready for Edinburgh to more than twenty venues and hundreds of shows. In theory this could mean exposing the faults of works not ready for public consumption, but as Euan’s well-produced programme explains, this one has been developed over several manifestations and is now nearing its final state, with a Euan 2 even promised. Director Lucy Betts has created a breathless surrealist caper that is sustained by its own unimpeachable internal logic. The need for three phones on stage seems questionable and some of Why’s ‘ideas for novels’ are of impenetrable significance but they hardly break the spell. In a world where losing a woodlouse has such dire consequences, analysis is futile.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Josh McClure
Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 31st July as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: