Re-introducing.....Badapple Theatre Company's Amy Johnson, flying high again after 20 years

GREEN Hammerton touring company Badapple Theatre open their national tour of Amy Johnson tonight at Stillingfleet Village Institute.

The story of Hull's First Lady of the Air will be on the road until June 3 with a cast of Sarah Raine and Frances Tither, complemented by original songs and music by Jez Lowe.

At the controls is Badapple writer and director Kate Bramley, here answering Charles Hutchinson's questions.

What prompted you to go back to your Amy Johnson play 20 years on?

"About 18 months ago, we were looking ahead to our 20th anniversary year and considering how best to celebrate, and it seemed like it would be a nice idea to come full circle and have another look at the show that started the company all those years ago.

"The original Amy Johnson show was one I started writing in 1997 when I was still a student at Hull University. I was very lucky to be given access to a collection of original letters from Amy Johnson that were about to be put on display at Hull Museum and that was where I started my research into her character. I re-wrote the show in 1998 for the company to take to Edinburgh Festival."

In what way have you re-imagined the original play? Apparently, it is a total re-write!

"Yes indeed. I knew early on I wanted to frame the story in a different way. So this 2018 version is set during the Second World War, on the day that Amy Johnson's transport plane went missing over the Thames.

"We see the story through the lens of two WAAF ladies who are manning the switchboard at Dover Castle and hear the news first hand that Amy is missing. Basically I wanted to broaden the picture a little, so we could explore a range of female characters from that time, as well as Amy Johnson of course."

What have you kept? The theme? The storyline?

"I have kept some of the framework of the scenes about Amy's early life and particularly the preparations for her flight to Australia. We had access to some great original film footage from that trip, as well as some commentary recorded by the company, and it's really great to be able to weave all those elements back in, as well as the original set. I think one of the original supporting characters has endured but the rest have been reinvented!"

What have you changed and why?

"I really started to make changes because I know how much my writing style has developed over the past 20 years and this new version is much more in keeping with the Badapple style we have created in recent years.

"I really went back to basics as to what was important to me about Amy Johnson's story and from there started to explore the wider themes of women in work, fulfilling your dreams and the quest for gender equality, which are still being widely debated now.

"It means that we have two strong central characters in the wartime setting, Beryl and Mabel, and a pair of pioneer aviators when we flash back to the 1930s in Amy Johnson and Pauline Gower."

York Press:

Badapple Theatre Company cast members Frances Tither and Sarah Raine on the replica of Amy Johnson's Gipsy Moth bi-plane

Do you view Amy Johnson any differently to the woman you wrote a play about 20 years ago?

"I don't think so. There are two strands of her biography which have always interested me. The first is that she was the first woman to gain her Ground Engineer's C Licence, and was a highly trained engineer, and for me this was a huge contributing factor to her success.

"The commentary of the time focused a lot on 'how could this gentle lady possibly make such a trip?'. And the answer was that she was highly skilled! She may not have had the best navigational or landing skills but she could fix her own engine.

"The second strand was that her greatest ambition was simply to be a professional passenger pilot and sadly it was a dream she never achieved in her lifetime."

Do you think Amy Johnson’s story is still not as well known as it should be?

"I think Amy Johnson has been forgotten to some degree. It seems that her good friend and contemporary Amelia Earhart stole the lion's share of the enduring publicity and Amy's story is best known in Hull and among Yorkshire folk of a certain age.

"She should be better known really but I suppose, as this new show explores, there were many phenomenal female pilots and pioneers from that time and many have been forgotten."

What makes Amy Johnson such a fascinating character?

"For me, it was her sheer stubborn determination. She pretty much set her heart on doing something and went out and did it, regardless of those around her who thought it was a ridiculous idea. That's a trait that should inspire us all! I think I probably felt the same when I started a theatre company and 20 years later we're still limping along..."

What’s coming next from Badapple?

"It's been a tough spring for us as we didn't get our Arts Council funding we had hoped for, so we've been involved with a huge corporate and private fundraising drive to make sure that the Amy Johnson tour of 45 dates goes ahead.

"We do have a full schedule of autumn tour dates too for the revival of our First World War play The Thankful Village. That's one of my favourite shows of ours, and hopefully we'll be able to put the finance in place to get us out on the road again this autumn."

Visit for the full tour and booking details.