Writer: Ade Morris
Director: Lucy Betts
The concern for most people today when thinking of aeroplanes is how they can get their refund back from their cancelled hop to Europe last year. It wasn’t always so. There was a time when the thought of flying was awe-inspiring. The world was seduced by the thrilling feat of breaking the bond between human and earth. Lone Flyer captures the breathless and undiluted fascination with flight that shone in Amy Johnson, an aviation pioneer who, in 1930, was the first woman to fly solo from the UK to Australia.
The production mixes timelines to show her childhood and early days, her growing passion for flight and life, and her tragic end in terrible weather that forced her to bail out into the sea. It’s all performed with just two actors – Hannah Edwards as a charismatic, intriguing Amy, and Benedict Salter as father, husband, boyfriend, friend, boss, schoolgirl (!) and everything else. Between them, and some highly effective use of light, sound and stage furniture, we’re transported swiftly and clearly through times, places and stories. It gives the impression of constant movement, of a life full of intention, reflecting Johnson’s dynamic character perfectly.
The effect is rather like a collage – while it’s hard to follow when exactly in Johnson’s timeline we are at some points, the overall format is a real delight. It’s forceful and emotionally intelligent, a romantic story of someone who was wildly practical and direct, a world of sky and life in a stage of roughly 10 sq. metres. Ade Morris’ script takes in, not just the vibrant character of Johnson herself, and the others who play a part in her life, but also the time and context to give the audience a real background in just what her achievements as a woman meant, now and back in the 1920’s and 30s.
Her life is told through her relationships, and while these are generally used as effective and sympathetic lenses there’s an odd imbalance between the time we spend with her first love Franz and her husband Jim. We get a lot of Franz and his coldness, without a lot of Jim, who turns out to be the man she calls to for help in her final moments. It feels a rare misstep – we benefit from the Franz storyline but miss out on learning more about Amy as a mature and talented woman.
The instantly changed atmospheres to mark out time shifts would have been impossible without the smart work from Johanna Town on lighting and Justin Teasdale as sound designer. While there’s some recorded sound, much is made of Benedict Salter’s abilities on the cello, producing a hauntingly accurate plane sound that accompanies Amy on her most dangerous moments. It all just flows together: performers, technical elements, scripting. A performance. that’s much more than the sum of its parts. illustrates the heights that can be achieved with a few simple elements and some clever engineering.
Runs until 3 July 2021