I came away from the Hull Truck Theatre on Thursday night, full of admiration for all involved in The Lone Flyer – The Last Flight Of Amy Johnson.
How on earth could just two people create so many different atmospheres – happy, sad, scary – that kept us theatregoers hooked for almost two hours.
Admittedly, the two – Louise Willoughby as Amy Johnson, and Benedict Salter as every other character on the night – were aided and abetted by suitable lighting, music, background sounds and the odd cloud of steam.
I’m not downplaying in any way the importance of such effects; this production would have obviously been greatly diminished without any of them.
But from “curtain up” it was the two actors who commanded the audience’s complete attention.
Hull-born Willoughby was perfect as Amy, who was born in the city on July 1, 1903.
She perfectly portrayed the aviatrix as being full of life, as a girl and woman ahead of her time, trying to make her feminine way in a man’s world – but on her own terms.
Salter, meanwhile, was the master of all accents as he became Amy’s father, flight instructor, female friend, boss, lover and husband to name just a few of the 16 characters he portrays on the night.
It’s May 1930 and Amy’s dream of being the first female pilot to fly solo to Australia, is gaining momentum.
Up to this point in her life she has emerged from Sheffield University with a degree, endured tedious job after job, suffered a failed love affair and a nervous breakdown – all perfectly brought to life by our two multi-tasking performers.
On May 5, 1930, Amy took off from Croydon Airport in her second-hand Gypsy Moth plane, which she called Jason. The stage setting showed Jason as a wooden trolley on wheels, in which “Amy”, bedecked in leather flying jacket and helmet, loose trousers and sturdy boots, was in her element.
She landed safely in Australia and her accomplishment was hailed around the world.
After marrying Scottish pilot, Jim Mollison, in 1932, the pair became known as the “flying sweethearts”.
But dark war clouds were on the horizon and in 1940 Amy, now a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary, can be found flying planes around the country in aid of the Royal Air Force, during the Second World War. And it’s during one such mission that Amy and her plane disappear – her body has never been recovered.
We in the audience were reminded of Amy’s final flight intermittently throughout the night. Every time the lights dimmed and the spotlight shone on Willoughby, we knew what was coming. – “Amy” would be flying a plane, at night, over water, totally lost and very scared.
Of course we can only imagine what was going through the real Amy’s mind, but such was Willoughby’s realistic acting, you could have heard a pin drop in the audience, so engrossed were we. The mournful cello playing, courtesy of Salter, added to the tense atmosphere.
The loud, clear voices of both actors easily carried to every corner of the theatre. Willoughby’s beautiful singing voice, combined with Salter’s many accents added to our enjoyment.
Hull Truck was far from full on the night – a huge annual fair was in town which may have enticed people away from the theatre. All I can say is they missed a real treat.
Reviewed by Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 14th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
Lone Flyer – The Last Flight Of Amy Johnson
A Hull Truck Theatre & Watermill Theatre Production
Written by Ade Morris
Directed by Lucy Betts
Produced by Adam Pownall
Runs until Saturday, October 30th, 2021; 7.30pm nightly with 2pm matinees on Saturdays, 16th, 23rd and 30th October, and Wednesday, 27th October
Tickets from £10. Call (01482) 323638 or visit www.hulltruck.co.uk
Recommended age 8+