Croydonites Festival 2017 review: Amy Johnson, Last Flight Out

By - Thursday 30th March, 2017

A show that’s about so much more than cockpits and carburettors

Photo by Croydonites Festival of New Theatre, used with permission.

When I was asked to review Last Flight Out, a one-woman play about Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly from the UK to Australia, I wasn’t too sure that I’d enjoy it. I didn’t think that a play about the flying career of a historical figure that I’d (shamefully) never heard of would be of much relevance to me.

Sure, I could see some similarities in our lives: both in our thirties, both keen travellers and both living in London… but talk of De Havilland planes, aviation history and engineering hangers didn’t really seem the sort of topics that I could get on board (excuse the pun) with. Even the feminist theme failed to capture me: it’s easy to assume that the issues raised would be problems that women had to deal with in the past and (thankfully) no longer things that affect girls of my generation.

But Jenny Lockyer’s one-woman show, specially commissioned for the Croydonites Festival and performed at the Spread Eagle pub theatre on Thursday 23rd and Saturday 25th March, is about so much more than cockpits and carburettors. It’s a play about passion, ambition, self-belief and the incredible things that can be achieved when these come together. Themes that not only stand the test of time, but are more relevant than ever to women in the UK today.

Whilst many of the key ‘feminist goals’ have now been achieved in this country, self-belief continues to be highlighted as one of the main barriers women face when trying to reach their full potential. The Women’s Business Council noted it as one of the three key obstacles female entrepreneurs face when starting up on their own. The Young Women’s Trust revealed last year that more than half of young women lack self-confidence and fear for their future. And the Global Beauty Report found that UK women have the second lowest self-esteem in the world.

By the time she reached India, Amy was a superstar

So what can women today learn from Amy Johnson? Let’s start with a quick history lesson (for those also willing to admit they are not familiar with ‘The Lone Girl Flyer’).

Amy was born the eldest of four sisters in Hull in 1903. She studied at Sheffield University before heading to London to work as a typist at a firm of solicitors. On a visit to Stag Lane Aerodrome in North London, Amy became fascinated by the aeroplanes and spent all her spare time at the aerodrome. With financial assistance from her father, she gained an engineer’s licence, took flying lessons and was awarded her pilot’s licence in 1929.

Just a year later, on 5th May 1930, Amy left Croydon Airport (at the time, London’s only airport) in a second-hand Gypsy Moth to attempt to break Bert Hinkler’s sixteen day record flight from the UK to Australia. Having plotted the most direct route to save time, the flight took Amy over some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain. When she landed in India in a record six days, the world’s media began to take interest. In the end, a monsoon robbed her of the chance to beat the record, but she arrived in Australia to crowds befitting a superstar.

Fame and fortune followed, as did several more record-making and record-breaking trips. In 1940, Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary to help ferry war planes around the country for the RAF. A routine flight from Blackpool to Oxford in 1941 ended in mysterious circumstances and whilst Amy’s body was never found, parts of her plane and several possessions washed up nearby.

Amy’s relationship with her plane is a love story in itself

We meet Amy as she arrives in London. A romance hasn’t worked out it quite the way she’d hoped, but her spirits have not been dampened. She declares she is very comfortable on her own and knows now that she does not need anyone else to make her happy. She speaks of finding an ‘overwhelming sense of belonging’ at the aerodrome and her excitement at her new passion is palpable.

A large portion of the play is narrated by Jason, the plane Amy flew to Australia. The fondness and pride in which Jason speaks of her is a love story in itself. Their initial meeting is characterised with flirtatious sound effects (I hope that there’ll be future opportunities for those intrigued by this to catch the show and find out more!) and as they take to the skies we get a real sense of Amy’s ambition, her love for aviation and her belief that it is the future.

“In the air”, says Amy, “I can see the world and my place in it”. When Amy found her passion in flying, she was determined to make a career from it and put her whole heart into doing so. That it was considered men’s work was of no consequence to her, and the onslaught of sexism and general assumption that she would fail did not stop her absolute self-belief that she was capable. “The skeptics do more to further progress – they hold a pistol at the head of the dreamer and the optimist, challenging them to bring their dreams to reality”.

That’s a sentence of relevance the world over… especially to (theatre) skeptics like me.

Jenny Lockyer hopes to take Last Flight Out on tour later in the year. The show was specially commissioned by Anna Arthur, director of the Croydonites Festival of New Theatre.

Maddy Duxbury

Maddy Duxbury

Having moved to London at 19, Maddy has lived both north and south of the river (with a 6 month stay in Spain and a year working in Argentina providing some well needed vitamin D). When not working in PR and comms, she can be found staring longingly at travel guides in bookshops or eating & drinking her way through London's latest haunts before trying to reduce the collateral damage in a lido.

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  • John Gass

    A show I really wanted to see, especially knowing Jenny Lockyer’s infectious energy and enthusiasm (she writes and performs songs and hosts creative sessions for children) but, unsurprisingly, it was sold-out.

    The sentence from this excellent review that jumped out at me was “She studied at Sheffield University before heading to London to work as a typist…”. We should remember how often education for women was deemed irrelevant, as demonstrated by the fact that she became a typist.

    I hope the play will go on tour and, in the meantime, I’ll try to process and upload the photo I took of the recent, but sadly now over-painted, stupendously wonderful Amy Johnson street art.

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Exactly same point occurred to me, John. Would love to see that pic. Hopefully Jenny will be touring the show and there’ll be more chances to see it – how about including it in this year’s Croydon Heritage Festival? In fact – I will suggest this straightaway :)

    • Jenny Lockyer

      Thank you John.. I will let people know when more performances are confirmed. Please keep an eye on my Facebook page or let me know and I’ll add you to my new mailing list :-D


    Excellent show, thoroughly absorbing.

    • Jenny Lockyer

      Thank you!