Review by Carly Fisher
John McCarthy’s is a story that I didn’t know until going to see After The Plane Has Landed but one that I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn of and it deserves to be remembered! A rookie war correspondent, McCarthy was on his way to the airport to leave Beirut when he was kidnapped and held hostage for over 5 years. Eventually released in 1991 when the Islamic Jihad planned to send an envoy to the United Nations, including one British and one American hostage, McCarthy’s story is a truely interesting and heartbreaking tale of survival and of resilience - one cannot imagine the conditions that he endured and for such a long period.
Adrian Kimberlin has definitely tried to imagine it all though, leading him to write this new musical, being shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Whilst I completely understand how one could draw a lot of inspiration from both the man and the story, where this show has landed is not what I was expecting it would be.
A meta-theatrical form seems to be a consistently recurring motif throughout the show, but is used with a particularly heavy hand at the beginning. To me, it had no place in the telling of this story and I am not exactly sure what the goal was for using this convention within the work. Despite this, once the performers in this two hander got started, the show seemed to be on a promising up.
On stage throughout are Benedict Powell (playing McCarthy) and Claire Russell, assuming the role of his girlfriend, Jill Morrell who started the ‘Friends of John McCarthy’ movement and campaigned tirelessly for his release during his time of imprisonment. Powell particularly has the opportunity through this show to showcase his talents - for him, the script has some rich and powerful moments of storytelling and his vocals are consistently strong. Russell is given less to work with with a character who seems two dimensional compared to her partners and would not pass the Bechdel test in a single sentence of the script. Seeing the show’s final performance, I’ll put it down to fatigue but unfortunately, the score did not do much to really showcase Russell’s voice either and I left feeling disappointed that I didn’t get to see her full potential utilised.
The production elements were basic - a very simple set, minimal lighting techniques employed and plagued (in the performance I saw) with microphone issues, so a lot of reliance was put on the script. Much of the score felt quite repetitive melodically but a lot of story was covered in song successfully. Further character development would lead to richer performances - this story deserves a deep character analysis and historical insight to guide the performers. Both gave all that they could, impressively so, considering what they had to work with, and I think should leave the Fringe happy with the performances they gave.
I think the show has potential but this production felt more like an early workshop of a show that still needs a lot of development, than a show ready for the calibre of the Edinburgh Fringe.