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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

After This Plane Has Landed

Exit Productions

Genre: Musical Theatre, New Writing

Venue: theSpace @ Surgeon's Hall


Low Down

This show will leave you with chills. shock,  and admiration for how beautifully these artists have brought a difficult story to life with powerful acting and a compelling score.


Couples are often navigating challenges in their relationships.  But nothing is more difficult than a long separation.  Add in a kidnapping, and it is terrifying. “After this Plane Has Landed” is the story of two people, 1,943 days apart from each other, and how one’s woman’s non-stop campaign helped bring an end to their frightening separation.  It is a love story unlike any other.

The show is an original two-hander musical, presented with a simple set of a table and chairs.  The story comes to life with excellent songwriting, outstanding singing, well-paced dramatic moments, and effective lighting.

It is 1986.  In a coup, forces loyal to politician and militia commander Samir Geagea and then president Amine Gemayel oust Lebanese Forces leader Elie Hobeika, who had signed an agreement in Damascus with Nabih Berri’s Amal movement and Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, with the intent of ending the civil war in Lebanon. The tripartite agreement causes an uproar within the ranks of the Lebanese Forces and is strongly rejected by several Christian leaders, including Geagea, who believed it gave the Syrian regime power over Lebanon. Car bombs are killing civilians.  Between 800 and 1000 people die before Geagea secures himself as Lebanese Forces leader and Hobeika flees.

Young British journalist John McCarthy is working as a news producer in Beirut in 1986 for Worldwide Television News (WTN). He expects to stay for a week. Living in the centre of Beirut, he takes photos of burned out buildings and war casualties.  Readying for his return to his girlfriend Jill Morrell in London, he has drinks with friends and is vocal about his journey home.  And that is a fatal error.  He is kidnapped at gunpoint by Islamic fundamentalists en route to the airport, hooded, and held captive for 64 days in squalid conditions.  He is beaten, held in solitary confinement, and frequently moved to new locations.

John eventually meets another hostage, Irishman Brian Keenan, with whom he forms a friendship. Their cell is often overrun with cockroaches and mice. In a gesture to Christmas, Brian and John are taken to the guards’ room and given tea and nuts.  They are constantly moved, sometimes in fridges, cardboard boxes or sacks. They are tortured, chained to a wall, beaten, and taped from head to toe like mummies and placed in a metal box.  A radio is tuned to static and hung outside the cell door on full volume for weeks. This is their nightmare – and more.

The British government’s position was to not negotiate with kidnappers.  Frustrated by the government inaction, John’s partner Jill travels to Damascus with an old friend of John’s who is an editor at WTN in order to gain information about John and his kidnappers.  Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite travels there as well to try to secure the release of four hostages, including the John.  He, too, is kidnapped.

Back at home Jill forms a campaign group, “The Friends of John McCarthy”, to highlight his plight and lobby for his release. They raise money by selling t-shirts and posters,  building an army of supporters. It is more than five long years – 1,943 days – before John is finally handed over to the British embassy.  There is a joyful reunion between John and Jill, and extensive media coverage. The story doesn’t end there.  They are taken to safe houses, away from the constant barrage of the press, who dissect their lives.

This is a story of iron will, faith, determination, love, and doubt.  Benedict Powell is a very convincing John McCarthy.  Claire Russell is spot on in her depiction of Jill Morrell.  Both resemble their real life subjects. These very talented actors brilliantly take us on a wild ride, from the gentle love scenes between the couple to the terror endured in horrific conditions. They shepherd us through a roller coaster of emotions.  We are at once hopeful, then worried.  Their emotional range as actors shows no bounds. Both are very strong singers with depth and range, and their voices blend well.

The songs handily advance the story. The harmonies are well-constructed and perfectly performed. So much has transpired in the five years of captivity.  The Berlin Wall came down. Nelson Mandela won his freedom. Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew were married.  And tragically, John’s mother passed away.  Powell sings a powerful emotional ballad about John losing his mother. Russell’s dramatic telling of Jill’s struggles with the media and her label as “the woman who waits” tears at our heartstrings.  “This Place Isn’t Mine” breaks our hearts as the song reveals John’s struggle with adjusting to his new life. The relationship does not survive the ordeal. In “People Change Like the Seasons”, we hear of the couple’s difficulties in reconstructing their life together. They sing of the promise of another possible start and we are hopeful. After 12 years, John and Jill end their relationship.

This show will leave you with chills. shock,  and admiration for how beautifully these artists have brought a difficult story to life with powerful acting and a compelling score.

Adrian Kimberlin wrote the book, music and lyrics. He is an experienced songwriter and regular music producer for some A-list celebrities. It is a first-rate musical. His songs are all memorable. Alan Magor, a West End Actor, is the Director.  Deborah Harries, a concert producer and former journalist, is the Producer.

There is a chilling post script in their materials that reminds us that of this August, 538 journalists and media workers are detained worldwide, according to Reporters Without Borders.