Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

Amy Wonderful Amy
by  Rex Walford   directed by Colin Lawrence

The Larkum Studio, The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, November 2010

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Two Reviews of Amy Wonderful Amy
by Nick Warburton and Alice Hancock (for Varsity)

This was a departure for BAWDS, a first show in the Larkum Studio at the ADC , and it must be counted a success. The studio is very much like an Edinburgh space: small (seating about 30+) and intimate (getting warmer as the evening progressed).
Amy Wonderful Amy tells the story of aviatrix Amy Johnson, from early ambitions in her Hull home, through the years of fame to her disappearance and presumed death in 1941. Rex Walford's fascinating script gives us a lot of Amy's story and everything goes at a pace. Director Colin Lawrence kept things moving and made the most of the limited space. The positioning and movement of the narrators, for example, was imaginatively choreographed and the minimal scene changes were so deftly achieved that we hardly noticed them happen.

Because the audience is so close, the playing has to be much smaller than it would be on the main stage. These are close up performances. Neil Coates, as Jack Humphreys, got us off to an assured start. I thought he pitched it just right and, establishing a good rapport with the audience, he became a narrator we could trust. As Amy Meg Dixon was full of bounce and purpose and steered us skillfully through the big changes in Amy's life. This was a thoughtful and detailed performance; we understood her drive and passion as well as her moments of insecurity. Guy Holmes as Amy's wayward husband, Jim Mollison, was suave and easy: Amy's falling for him, unreliable tippler that he was, made complete sense.

Alison Taylor was wholly convincing as Amy's sensible, loyal friend Winifred and she also handled the narration very well. Sarah Middle, as Amy's sister, Molly gave a touching performance, looking on helplessly as her admired Amy seemed to become lost to fashionable London. All the cast did well: Andy Waller as a sleazy Daily Mail man, William Courtenay (nothing changes), Claire Waite as Pauline Gower the new aviatrix, on the block, and Sally Marsh as an earthy Florence Desmond, managing abrupt shifts of accent with dash. Ken and Rosemary Eason expertly did all that was asked of them.

Songs of the time were neatly threaded in and the sounds of those old engines were thoroughly convincing, courtesy of Graham Potter. Lighting, by Ed Hopkins had to be slick and it was, especially so when a clearly defined box of light put us in the cockpit with Amy and Jim.

So, a successful first landing in the Larkum Studio for BAWDS the entire production team and cast, let's hope there'll be others to follow.

* * * * *

Putting on a play on a subject as expansive as flying in, to use that favourite of theatre crit terms, such an intimate space as the ADC's Larkum Studio, total audience capacity approximately thirty, instantly suggested that it might not take off (apologies).

However, overcoming the village hall connotations of amateur dramatics, the Cambridge Bawds put on a not unenjoyable show. Amy Johnson, Britain's 'foremost female aviator' as the programme proudly reads, made for an interesting biographical piece. Starting out in Hull where Johnson was born the daughter of local fish merchant, the play gushed out Amy's career from her first famed flight to Australia (the 80th anniversary of which falls this year) through her uneasy relationship with fellow aviator Jim Mollison to her untimely death which is enacted with a certain predictability but an effective quietude at the end.

Set of course was an inevitable problem. A backdrop of three printed boards of memorabilia of her career could easily have come across as a bit of a museum piece but instead felt more like the glossy photo pages in an biography, the ones you flick to when the prose isn't quite holding your attention. Resultantly the intimate scenes of Johnson's life, a touching proposal scene over dinner working particularly well, were perhaps the most successful (set being slightly less important) but they were nicely spliced with reports of our heroine's flying exploits in vairy naice darling 1930s RP which the cast hit spot on and which were juxtaposed nicely with the Yorkshire accents of Johnson's early years in Hull.

At times the perfomance risked the tone of the kind of TV docu-drama interspersed with re-enactment scenes of which the BBC are so fond. Meg Dixon, however, made a comfortable portrayal of Amy depicting very humanly her beguilement with the high life (in all senses of the word). She may at times have been a little too comfortable with an occasional expression or gesture overly expansive for the space available but alongside Guy Holmes' suitably smooth talking media savvy Jim Mollison and Neil Coates as the trusty engineer Jack Humphreys, the actors kept the cogs of the script running nicely along. Johnson's life (and some brilliant sound effects work) made for a pleasant hour of drama. Longer and it might not have been quite so pleasant. Rex Walford's script ticked the boxes, had all the necessary quips ('I flew to Hull', 'Oh aye? Next time it'll be Hell') and presented in audience friendly bites a (very British) story that not many know.