The Making of “Mitchell’s Wings” – Saturday 10th September 2011
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The ParkLife Community Café took on a very different ambience as an audience of 35 people were treated to a special guest lecture evening by FoSJP’s award‑winning playwright Johnny Carrington.
Johnny, a drama teacher, history graduate, and RAF Reserves pilot, shared how as a teacher he found that his students were aware that the Spitfire was built in Southampton, but knew nothing of its designer RJ Mitchell. A strong desire to raise awareness of Mitchell and the historical events that happened in and around Southampton set Johnny on a 3‑year labour of love, researching the life of Mitchell and his crew, the result of which was turned into the play “Mitchell’s Wings”.
March 2011 saw the 75th anniversary of the maiden flight of the Spitfire from Eastleigh Aerodrome, now better known as Southampton Airport. As part of the celebrations, Johnny’s play was commissioned by the Maskers Theatre Company with help from the Oasis Youth Theatre and was performed at several locations in the South including Southampton’s own Solent Sky Museum.
Johnny shared the stories and anecdotes of the people he met during his research, several of whom, including Mitchell’s son Gordon, have since died. Johnny stressed throughout how this resulted in a sense of huge responsibility for him to portray their stories true to their testimonies.
“Mitchell’s Wings” was performed as a promenade play where the audience move from scene to scene with the actors, resulting in the audience at times feeling part of the play itself. The play centred around Gordon Mitchell, RJ Mitchell’s son, who told his father’s life story and weaved the stories relating to his crew. As RJ Mitchell had lost his battle to cancer in 1937, a year after the Spitfire’s maiden flight, he didn’t see the role that his iconic aeroplane was to play in World War II. So again, it is his son Gordon who narrates this within the play. It was moving to hear that before he died, Gordon Mitchell requested that a donation from Johnny’s play be made to one of the UK Cancer charities in his father’s name.
The play itself was totally gripping, taking the audience on an emotional journey. Tragic tales were lightened by the musical numbers provided by Mark Wheeller and Paul Ibbott. Johnny showed us video snippets of the play, so that the lecture audience, many of whom had not seen the original play, could get a real sense of the performance.
Johnny’s play was a huge success, so much so that in the summer of 2011 he won an “accolade of excellence” given by the National Operatic and Dramatic Association.
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Johnny’s talk was followed by a buffet and the unveiling of the oil painting “Shirley Recreation Ground, 1934”, by Don Smith, aged 84. Don has recreated the park of his childhood memories of what was then the Shirley Recreation Ground, complete with characters in dress typical of the day. This wonderful and unique painting will be available to view at the Sunday 2nd October Public History Talk at Shirley Parish Hall.
This was an absolutely fascinating evening and a real honour for the audience. FoSJP has since received the following feedback from the event:
“What a special evening on Saturday! Thank you and all the others who were involved in the planning of the event. Johnny Carrington was brimming over with his project and must be pleased that others share his pride of Mitchell. Wonderful beginning to the ParkLife Café and Community Room.”
“Saturday night at St.James’ Park was fab – I loved it.”
“Thanks again for Saturday evening – we both really enjoyed it and Johnny’s presentation was really interesting – particularly all the descriptions and anecdotes from the people he’d met during his research. Would like to know if he does manage to get another production put on of “Mitchell’s Wings” as it would be great to see it.”