Theatre review: Miss Jean Batten, Basement Theatre

By Janet McAllister

Add a comment
Light, bright production presents girlish side of elusive aviator.
Alex Ellis as Miss Jean Batten. Image / supplied
Alex Ellis as Miss Jean Batten. Image / supplied

The "Garbo of the Skies" legend of Jean Batten is both fascinating and powerful: cool, glamorous and supposedly manipulative, the great aviator cannibalised her admirers' planes to patch up her own.

This Flaxworks production mentions the boyfriends but ignores the image, and instead presents a girlish Jean, enthusiastic and sweet. Stuck in Sydney in 1936 on her way to being the first person - male or female - to fly from England to New Zealand, she sketches out her adventures in flying and fame.

As Jean, Alex Ellis is playful and graceful - peeling off a flying jacket to reveal a remarkable pitch-perfect Elizabeth Whiting confection - but little is shown of the steely resolve that one might expect in a woman who performs daring feats in a man's world. The revisionist personality is more generic than convincing but it does suggest alternative possibilities.

Poignantly, playwright Phil Ormsby has Jean say "just when I think I'm about to spend my life alone, I meet someone". The play keeps us in the dark, but that "someone", Beverley Shepherd, died only a few months after Batten's New Zealand triumph. And Batten spent her life if not alone, then certainly with no long-term partners.

More detail would keep up interest and there are small factual errors; Batten's hometown is said to be Auckland, not Rotorua. But we're transported to the aerodrome by Thomas Press's sound effects and the real radio announcement of her landing at Mangere is a treat.

John Parker's set is dominated by a wooden ladder pretending to be a plane; it occasionally gets in the way as Jean moves upstage to retrieve props but it makes a great climbing frame. The conceit of props being wrapped in maps - telegrams, newspapers, flowers, wine bottles - works well. This is a light, bright production; the complex Miss Batten remains elusive.

Review
What: Miss Jean Batten.
Where and when: Basement Theatre, Greys Ave; to April 9.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 06 Dec 2016 01:52:33 Processing Time: 851ms