The stage is lit in pale orange light. A wooden structure stands in the centre - strong, bold, mysterious - much like Miss Jean Batten herself. Mysterious as in the fact that, although I am a born and raised 100% kiwi, I really don’t know that much about Jean Batten. However, after watching Amanda Rees’ ‘Miss Jean Batten’ at the Tauranga Arts Festival, I can safely say I could pilot my way through a talk about the fearless woman.
The show starts with the usual pre-show hush as funky 1930s music crackles over the speakers, creating an atmosphere that makes you as an audience member feel whirled back in time - especially as Jean Batten (played by the immensely talented Alex Ellis) enters the stage and climbs the great wooden ladder. It is clear that the actress is very comfortable in her role, shown by her flawless execution of portraying Jean’s feisty and fierce nature. You immediately feel as though you are right there beside her in the Hotel Australia, desperately awaiting news of good or bad weather - determining the outcome of the rest of her trip. At first, I was surprised as the actress portrays more than just Jean Batten - putting on accents and moving her body to show a change in role. Casual witty remarks had the audience chuckling in their seats; the older generation in the audience tickled pink by everything Jean had to say, listening `to her every word. As a “teenager” some of the jokes were a tad confusing, however I couldn’t help but be silently rooting for the woman on stage at every moment. The actress conveyed Jean with a likeable, charismatic attitude that made her stage presence strong and successful. Although there was only one person on stage, it felt like so many personalities were there alongside Jean, which can only be accredited to the incredible talent that is Alex Ellis - who kept us engaged and interested throughout the performance.
I did struggle at times to fully immerse myself in the show, which I think was mostly due to the fact there was no intermission - so it was a full-on show that had me a little restless half-way through. However, there was always something interesting occurring on stage that quickly grabbed your attention every time; whether it be Jean telling an epic story about running out of fuel in midair, responding to countless marriage proposals, or eagerly waiting for the 24 hours to pass before Jean could leave on the last leg of her world record-breaking journey. You can’t help but be swept up in the pure excitement of the story - hats off to author Phil Ormsby, for creating an exciting twist on such a historical icon.
Overall, Miss Jean Batten requires you to buckle up your seat belts and prepare for an adventure - all through the use of expert dramatic ability that had you on the edge of your seat. There was minimal turbulence, and I didn’t glance towards the emergency exits once. I left the theatre feeling informed and inspired. A perfect landing for Miss Jean Batten.