Flights and frustrations shared

Alex Ellis plays the role of glamorous aviatrix Jean Batten, feeling  fatigued and anxious in her...
Alex Ellis plays the role of glamorous aviatrix Jean Batten, feeling fatigued and anxious in her Sydney hotel on the eve of completing her world record-setting flight from England to New Zealand. Photo: supplied
Alex Ellis begins her performance of Miss Jean Batten sitting in a precarious position astride the top of a ladder, as Batten had to balance the social and political forces ranged against her as an aviatrix in a world that did not want to see her succeed.

The set is made simply of wood and fabric, just like the Gypsy Moth plane that Jean Batten flew her record-breaking flights in.

The design focuses on the colour of the silk dress that Jean Batten was famous for taking on her adventures.

Her glamorous entrances dressed in silk with touched-up lipstick on gained her the moniker ‘‘the Garbo of the Skies’’.

However, Jean Batten was much more than this. She was laden with the highest accolades from multiple countries and she continually broke world records and flew distances that no human ever had before. She was the most famous New Zealander in the 1930s.

The play is set in a fancy suite in the Hotel Australia while Batten waits for the weather to clear enough for her to complete her journey to New Zealand.

Ellis paces like a caged feline, her character frustrated by the wait.

Her impatience is communicated through repeated telegram deliveries. In between she relates her adventures in her tiny plane, which had less technology and engineering than a modern fridge.

Prop retrieval occasionally breaks up the pace of the play, but Ellis soon draws us back in with flashbacks to plane crashes in Rome, flying through sandstorms above the desert and other near misses.

Ellis communicates an exasperated Batten confined by the weather, the media, her fans and by the contradictory expectations put on her. She gives a great performance and will share with you the exhilaration of freedom and flight.

 - by Kimberley Buchan 

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