They say your life flashes before you at the moment of death, which may be an old trope, but it is used to fresh effect in the latest Watermill Theatre production, Lone Flyer. Ade Morris’ astonishing play is a life story of Amy Johnson, a bright and driven fishmonger’s daughter from Hull, who after an economics degree at Sheffield University would not conform to expectations to be a teacher or a nurse, but chose rather to learn to fly. She became a very popular celebrity in the 1930s as a result of flying solo from Croydon to Australia. So much of that is Daily Mail fodder, and as such is not the really interesting side of Amy. What is more engrossing are the play’s scenes of her life through the prism of her sentimental education, exploring where her heart was in her relationships with the men in her life.
Amy is played sensitively by the talented Hannah Edwards, and all the other 30-ish parts by the equally gifted Benedict Salter. He is credited in the programme as “The Man”, so he turns up as Amy’s father, long term lover, flying friend, husband, various backers and teachers, etc. Against typecasting, he also plays three women, including the delicious Winifred, a straw-boatered and doggedly loyal chum. His accents are spot on, as is Amy’s East Yorkshire, a credit to the Dialect Coach Elspeth Morrison.
The adroit direction by Lucy Betts makes full use of the stage, with interesting props popping out of old suitcases and trunks, and the two characters moving seamlessly around. The socially-distanced playing is notable, especially the scene where they dance ballroom two metres apart, cleverly choreographed by Hannah, and the sleight-of-hand lighting of a cigarette.
The music is hauntingly good. The sound, lighting and period costumes add more than constructively to the high standards throughout the performance.
The anti-Covid set-up at the Watermill is very safe, with a clear and easily understood policy sensitively maintained throughout. The audience numbers have to be low, distanced in bubbles by lovely bows on the empty seats. The restaurant has reorganised and now does 2 course set meals instead of the buffet-style dining of old. The food is excellent, and so is the service.If you have never been to the Watermill, then you should go - you will not be disappointed. If you have been before, then be assured that Lone Flyer surpasses their usual high standard; it’s one of the best productions I have seen there.