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Mission of Flowers
Published on Monday, 16 August 2010

4 stars

C aquila (venue website)
5-30 Aug (not 17 Aug), 2:30pm (3:30pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

"Adventure!  Illicit love!  Betrayal!  Murder?" gasp the posters for Mission of Flowers, a strong one-hander from Aussie actor Leof Kingsford-Smith.   It certainly delivers all of those – including the terminal question mark – and it delivers some fine character acting, too.  Despite a few early pacing problems, it's a gripping portrayal of life and death as a pioneer, filled with the excitement of a less controlled – and more dangerous – age.

So, let’s start with the “Adventure!”  Set in the golden age of air travel, not long after the First World War, Mission of Flowers elegantly captures both the wonder and the terror of the early days of flight.  Recalling the life of pioneering pilot Bill Lancaster, it’s a beautifully-evocative window into a long-gone world – when the heroes of aviation were greeted with tickertape parades, yet lived from hand to mouth, never knowing when the next opportunity would come or where the next flight would take them.

But for Lancaster, the adventure’s just met the rudest of ends; on his last, great attempt to earn a place in the history books (and the prize which will save him from bankruptcy), his plane’s come down in the inhospitable heart of the Sahara.  As the days tick remorselessly past and his canteen of water runs dry, Lancaster alternates between desperation, and desperate hope.  And that's when the “Love!” and “Betrayal!” take over – for while the stranded pilot waits helplessly for a rescue we suspect may never come, we, the audience, become his deathbed confessors.

The story he tells is a fine one, but there’s a lot of it, and it all seemed rushed – like a video played on double speed.  Moments of drama or emotion were wasted, as the scene quickly changed and the action barrelled on.  By the end, though, I’d come to enjoy the relentless cycles of the play, matching the cycles of the stranded man’s days; perhaps the pace had slowed down, or perhaps my own mind just got up to take-off speed.

Kingsford-Smith is at home in his role as Lancaster, convincingly evoking both the nightmare of his current plight and the complex, intertwined scenes from his past.  But much though I admired the details of Kingsford-Smith’s acting, the details of production rather let him down.  I was distinctly underwhelmed by the crashed plane, which (even allowing for the challenges of a Fringe venue) was all too visibly held together by duct tape.  And, at risk of appearing an insufferable pedant, our pilot was wearing zip-off walking trousers – which I’m pretty sure they didn’t have in 1933.

But enough of those quibbles; it’s a story worth telling, an age worth revisiting and, above all, a faultless show of acting, well worth your time to see.  Oh yes, and what about the “Murder?”  I won’t reveal too much about that particular twist to the tale, except to say that it’s foreshadowed to great effect throughout the play – and that, commendably, the script makes no rush to judgement, showing proper respect for a historical question that will surely stay forever unresolved.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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