Claire Russell as girlfriend Jill Morrell with Benedict Powell, as John McCarthy

After This Plane Has Landed  

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham  


In 1986, British Journalist John McCarthy made headlines of his own when he was kidnapped and taken hostage by Islamic terrorists in Lebanon. His 5 year incarceration sent shockwaves around the world and prompted a tireless campaign back in the UK by girlfriend Jill Morrell to get him released.  

It’s a story that’s ripe for the telling as all the ingredients are there; A new and blossoming relationship that’s ripped apart by events no-one could have dreamt of. The day to day struggle of life in captivity and the re adjustment to life and reality when the nightmare is over. It’s a screenwriter’s gift.  

What is perhaps more surprising, though no less effective, is the decision by writer Adrian Kimberlin to turn the story into a musical, or, in his own words, a Musical Dramedy. Clearly though. we aren’t, of course, talking a jazz hands and tap number  type of musical - more of a journey through song.

It’s hugely effective too, bringing out key moments of plot and emotion with real intensity and power. The songs serve to build and maintain the connection between the two characters - exploring the rise and fall of each others feelings about their situation… and ultimately, each other. For a story so potentially dark, it is punctuated with plenty of light and funny moments.


Kimberlin even has a lighthearted dig at the whole musical theatre genre, poking fun at the tendency to suddenly burst into song for no reason. It’s an affectionate note of parody, but once the joke is made, the songs really do take centre stage and carry the plot beautifully.  

Benedict Powell, as John McCarthy, brings out the character’s phases of hope, frustration, and anger with equal force and sensitivity. His song to his mother, following her death whilst he was still in prison, is a heartbreaking, stand out moment  

Connection and chemistry between the two characters is crystal clear and the will they/won’t they? nature of the relationship on McCarthy’s return is played out to perfection. Claire Russell as girlfriend, Jill Morrell, gives stillness and strength to a character who fights so hard for her partner’s release but is left with decisions to make when the drama and enforced separation is over.  

Director Alan Magor keeps the story and characterisation right at the forefront, establishing a simple template for the Actors to colour in. A basic set is all that’s needed - it’s all about the story and it’s telling  

The songs themselves are interwoven seemlessly and never seem placed or set up. Kimberlin’s arrangements and lyrics are beautifully constructed and delivered faultlessly by the two actors. Funny and deeply moving in equal measure.

After This  Plane Has Landed now moves on to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (4-28 August) and deserves to do well. It also deserves a life beyond that. Moving, powerful and engrossing throughout.

Tom Roberts


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