Suter Theatre, Nelson

16/10/2016 - 17/10/2016

Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

29/03/2016 - 09/04/2016

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

07/03/2017 - 11/03/2017

Repertory House, 167 Esk Street, Invercargill

28/04/2017 - 29/04/2017

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

31/08/2017 - 01/09/2017

Kavanagh Auditorium, Kavanagh College, 255A Rattray St, Dunedin

21/09/2018 - 24/09/2018

Nelson Arts Festival 2016

WTF! Women’s Theatre Festival 2017

Southland Festival of the Arts 2017

Taranaki Arts Festival 2017

Dunedin Arts Festival 2018

Production Details


Jean Batten’s 1936 flight from England to New Zealand in a single engine plane made of wood and fabric navigating with just a compass and a watch is one of the extraordinary feats of the last century. Yet when she successfully landed in Auckland the Mayor greeted her with the words:  

“Jean you are a very naughty girl, and really I think you want a good spanking for giving us such a terribly anxious time here.”

Miss Jean Batten is a new solo show, produced by Flaxworks theatre company, written by Phil Ormsby and performed by Alex Ellis about New Zealand’s legendary Aviatrix. The play is directed by Amanda Rees with set design by John Parker, costume by Elizabeth Whiting, lighting design by Ruby Reihana-Wilson and sound design by Thomas Press.

Phil Ormsby, playwright and co-producer of Flaxworks says the play has been in his head for a few years and he is excited to get it off the ground;

“Despite her world renowned achievements I think Jean Batten is still largely unappreciated by New Zealanders today and we want to bring her to life. To give her story the joy, vibrancy and colour it deserves and really celebrate the determination, bravery and bold sense of adventure she embodied to achieve what she did.”

Utterly fearless Jean Batten flew at a time when pilots regularly disappeared without a trace. She spoke of panic and self-doubt as she flew for hours without a landmark, not knowing if she had drifted off her flight path, miscalculated wind gusts or fuel consumption or simply made a navigational error.

She was unquestionably brave but rarely reckless, unassuming but unswervingly determined and despite her high public profile she carefully guarded her privacy. She received Brazil’s Officer Of The Order Of The Southern Cross, France’s Chevalier de Legion d’Honeur and a CBE from Britain. She won USA’s Harmon Aeronautics Trophy three years running.

Described as enigmatic, a Prima Donna, inspirational, exploitative, loyal, and a victim of her own success, Jean was someone who didn’t always fit neatly into the box society placed her in but she seems to have lived exactly the life she wanted in a world where women’s options were limited.

Miss Jean Batten is set in the VIP Suite of the Hotel Australia, Sydney, on the eve of the last and most important leg of her historic flight to New Zealand. She has had 8 hours sleep in 8 days. Fatigued and anxious to keep going she relives moments from her flight and the events that brought her here. She is juggling press calls, sponsorship offers, fan mail, and weather reports and now last minute attempts are being made by Australian authorities to prevent her from flying at all.

Miss Jean Batten is a joyous celebration of an independent woman who pursued her ambition with unqualified success but still found herself being judged and patronised because of her gender. But most of all, it’s  about capturing the spirit of Jean Batten, New Zealand’s most famous Aviatrix, who made the first-ever solo flight from England to New Zealand setting a record that stood for 44 years. It’s a story of success against enormous odds and one that should resonate with every Kiwi. 

Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Grey’s Ave, Auckland
29 March – 9 April 2016
6.30pm Tuesday – Saturday.
Tickets are $22 and $18 concession
Bookings:  (09) 361 1000 or www.basementtheatre.co.nz  

Nelson Arts Festival 2016
Suter Theatre
Sun 16, 7pm [Sold Out]; Mon 17 Oct 2016, 7pm
60 mins, no interval

“It’s a star performance, one that the legend that is Jean Batten more than deserves.” – Sam Brooks, Pantograph Punch 

“This is a gem of a show.” Alex Bonham, Whats Good Blog 

Miss Jean Batten
Circa Theatre, Wellington
7 – 11 March 2017
6.30pm Tuesday – Thursday; 8pm Friday and Saturday.
Tickets: $25 – $35
available from Circa www.circa.co.nz/package/miss-jean-batten/   

Southland Festival of the Arts 2017
Fri 28 April 8:00pm Repertory House, Invercargill
Sat 29 April 3:00pm Repertory House, Invercargill
Presented by McDowall Print in association with Flaxworks 

Taranaki Arts Festival 2017
Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace 
Thurs, Aug 31, 8pm
Fri, Sep 1, 8.30pm 

Arts Festival Dunedin

Friday 21 & Saturday 22 Sept, 7.30pm
Monday 24 Sept, 2pm & 7.30pm*

Kavanagh Auditorium *Mosgiel Coronation Hall


Co-produced and performed by Alex Ellis

Set design by John Parker
Costume design by Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting design by Ruby Reihana-Wilson
Sound design by Thomas Press 

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr

Soaringly majestic flight through a storm of memories and emotion

Review by Kate Timms-Dean 22nd Sep 2018

On entering the auditorium, we encounter a stage that is clinical and cluttered by turn: a linear structure dominates the scene; a ladder and steps creating a runway for the actor’s delivery. Props are arranged at the rear, teapots, sandwiches, a torch, a telephone. Gossamer sways in an ethereal breeze and the quaint sounds of music over the wireless draw us back in time. It is the 1930s and we are already in suspense.

Having quickly scanned our hero’s biography online – words like arrogant, hard-headed and narcissistic swarm around me – I don’t know what to expect.

Her entrance is brash, bold and boundlessly confident, a woman proudly living in a man’s world: flying planes, breaking records, navigating storms and surviving it all. But despite the adoration and cheering, her gender is a bone of contention continually ground down by the weary teeth of commentators, lovers and fans. She struggles with the duality of fame: loving the adoration, but deriding those who ask the dreaded question, “Why do you do it, Miss Batten?” 

I imagine a man in her position. I cannot see his fans being so concerned.

The impact for me is a feeling of connection to her as a woman. A sense of satisfaction overwhelms me. On one side of me sit two older women, on the other, my two teenage daughters; I can almost feel the emotion pouring of them, and the pride. 

By filling the gaps of a lost 48 hours in October 1936 waiting for the weather to clear, writer Phil Ormsby has invented a narrative that pays homage to a life of adventure and a name nearly forgotten. Director Amanda Rees has provided a basis for the actor to flourish in the role, bringing to life her personality as a woman, as a human being, who loves to fly. 

Any piece of solo theatre is carried by the strength and skill of the sole actor, and Alex Ellis is no exception. Just like Jean Batten’s flight, Ellis’s delivery is soaringly majestic, leading us through frustrations, fear and passion in a storm of memories and emotion.

I am struck by her pure love and joy for the art and science of flight. Why does she do it? Because, she wants to.


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Many clever moments

Review by Victoria Kerr 01st Sep 2017

This one-woman show is an homage to New Zealand’s greatest aviator, Jean Batten.  Ostensibly set in a hotel room in Sydney in 1936, Jean is waiting for the weather report to give her the all clear to complete the final leg of her historic and record-breaking flight from England to New Zealand.  In this hour-long production, we are told stories of her flights – both disastrous and triumphant – her encounters with men and patrons, her dreams and ambitions, her parents, and her opinions on the Press the public and her sponsors.  Her achievements are acknowledged, with a CBE and Legion d’Honneur to name just two. 

We see that Batten relishes in her triumphs, courts the press and publicity, delights in the danger and loves to confront the status quo.  She stands up to those who attempt to stop her flying and is determined to follow her own path.  She is also unapologetic in using men to get what she wants.  The story of her mother is particularly engaging. 

Alex Ellis is a skilful actress who captures the vitality, passion, drive and independence of Batten.  She manages to convey the era with both her cut-glass accent and splendid cream silk gown of the era.  Unfortunately, she appears to struggle with her voice this evening and this may be contributing to a lack of nuance to the performance. 

The staging is really promising, with a simple wooden ladder and two tiers of long planks to represent Batten’s Gypsy Moth plane held together by wood and fabric.  The opening and closing are particularly dramatic with Batten atop her plane flying with her goggles, elegant gown and flying jacket silhouetted against the billowing white background by the lighting.  The set becomes cluttered though, with the myriad of props and telegrams and messages that are delivered. Whilst they do recreate the era, they are another distraction from the simple stage design. 

I am also puzzled as to why a flying sequence takes place on the wing of this aeroplane; for me it fractures the unity of the staging.  Similarly, messages are pulled from different openings in the backdrop as if the imagined door of the hotel room keeps shifting, which is another distraction.  These are used to prompt the stories or Batten’s thoughts, however there is too much repetition. 

A promising production with many clever moments, a wonderfully imagined costume and set.  I was just left wanting more: more drama, more action, more feeling – and less clutter. 


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Defiantly independent yet vulnerable high-flyer

Review by Chris Chilton 29th Apr 2017

An anxious and exhausted Jean Batten is holed up in a hotel room in Sydney as she awaits word that she can take off for the final leg of her historic flight from England to New Zealand. 

It is 1936. The famous Kiwi aviatrix has slept for only eight hours in the past eight days and is being bombarded with media and public engagement requests, fan mail and offers of sponsorship and marriage. She is also pushing back against an onslaught of mysoginistic prejudice that is telling her she should count her lucky stars she has made it this far and to call off her record attempt.

Even the local authorities are conspiring to prevent her from completing her mission. “Flying is the easy part,” she confides to the audience.

Jean Batten is portrayed with extraordinary range and subtlety throughout this one-hour production by Auckland actress Alex Ellis. Like Miss Batten’s record-making flight, this play is a solo adventure. Ellis’s Batten paces the stage like a caged lion, her mind racing from sleep deprivation, recalling events that have led to her to this moment and preparing for the battles still to come. 

A sturdy wooden ladder and bench structure is the centrepiece of a spartan set that serves this production well. It becomes, in turn, aircraft, bed and kitchen table.

So, much like the subject of the play, all eyes are firmly on Alex Ellis as she inhabits the persona of a conflicted but ferociously determined Jean Batten.

Her reading of the great New Zealander, as written by Phil Ormsby, is a revelation. Here is a complex soul – courageous, calculating, glamorous, cultured, intelligent, quite comfortable in her celebrity as a consequence of her all-consuming passion for flight – defiantly independent and driven to prove all the naysayers wrong.

As Ellis confides with regret, there have been many, starting with Batten’s own father. Despite the bravado, there are flickers of vulnerability in Ellis’s compelling performance, as there must have been as Batten waited for word that she could complete her epic journey. 

Ellis’s Jean Batten carries the heavy mantle of a pioneering suffragette, rising above the open prejudices of the time and flying into the clouds as if they are the glass ceiling that will not enter the public vocabulary for another 40 years.

She is a new kind of woman; one so far out on the tip of a wing that she is an easy target for public opinion. She has embraced her own undoubted sex appeal, using it as a means to an end, and accepted the inevitable backlash and occasional betrayal that comes with it.

She is in a small club of people who believe in her, she confides sorrowfully: just her and her mum.  

In this emotionally engaging performance Alex Ellis, so much like the woman she portrays, is strong but not immune to the sting of judgment and disapproval.

Why does she do it? The joy we see on her face when she talks about flying explains everything. The sky is where she’s free from the shackles society is trying to clamp on her.

The sky, as Jean Batten and other pioneering women recognised, is the limit.


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Generates admiration and pride

Review by John Smythe 08th Mar 2017

Trapping an intrepid adventurer in the VIP Suite of the Hotel Australia, in Sydney, when her natural state is flying high above it all, seems like an unlikely premise for dramatising the Jean Batten story. Yet it works a treat as the anchor-point for a story that flits back and forth through time to create an absorbing portrait of a very determined woman, as brave and fearless as any New Zealander we revere. 

Having flown from London to Sydney, Jean is in the Suite for two days, waiting for the weather to clear so that she could complete a feat of endurance never before achieved by flying the final leg to Auckland. Given no historical record of how she passed the time, playwright Phil Ormsby simply has her sharing the experience so far with us as countless knocks at the door bring her, tea, coffee, newspapers and telegrams.

John Parker’s set design eschews the furnishings of a luxury Suite for a timber A-frame with wings, allowing our Jean to levitate above humdrum reality and take us with her.

As embodied by Alex Ellis and directed by Amanda Rees, the play floats and glides through its hour with great fluency, punctuated by turbulence both metaphorical and literal – enhanced by Thomas Press’s vibrant sound design and Ruby Reihana-Wilson’s evocative lighting design.

What seems like incidental chat to pass the time actually reveals, in present action, the character traits that make Jean so indomitable. Some may call it reckless for her to maximise fuel space at the expense of a parachute or any other safety equipment but for her it is a calculated risk. Oblique references to her relationships with her mother, various men and persistent suitors all add depth and breadth to our understanding of her. Likewise the way she copes with public expectations and her duty to pay due homage to her sponsors. But it is high in the sky where she feels most free and liberated.

The production is bookended with Jean aloft, first on arriving in Sydney and second on landing in Auckland, accompanied by authentic radio commentary. That we feel as admiring and as proud of her in that climactic moment as Kiwis did back in 1936 is testament to how enrolled we’ve become in Alex Ellis’s performance.

How appropriate to be writing about this on International Women’s Day. Miss Jean Batten is part of WTF! The Women’s Theatre Festival at Circa Theatre and highly recommended.

P.S. This is the seventh Alex Ellis/Phil Orsmby – aka Flaxworks – production Theatreview has reviewed. Here are links to earlier reviews: Biscuit & Coffee, Murder by Chocolate, Carol & Nev, Drowning in Veronica Lake, A Model Woman, Wild Bees.  


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Increasingly frenetic

Review by Gail Tresidder 17th Oct 2016

With hard graft, intelligence and charm, coupled with an absolute determination to be famous – something she was sure of from a young girl, “either as a concert pianist or aviator” – Jean Batten, Garbo Of The Skies, not only became a record-breaker on long crossings from continent to continent in her fragile wood and cloth planes, but a symbol of hope during the Great Depression.  

She was a talisman of possibilities to many women throughout the world, with her can do and often gritty attitude, navigating with only a compass and watch and without a safety belt or any form of life raft. “There is not enough room in the plane cabin,” she said, “small as it is and loaded with fuel.”

It is pleasant to be in the newly refurbished Suter Theatre, reduced in seating capacity to allow for wheelchairs, and with smart red carpet and chairs to match. After an informative introduction reminding us that it is exactly eighty years ago to the day that Jean landed at Mangere Airport, Auckland, having finally set her solo record – England to New Zealand, the first person to do so – this full house audience settles back, well prepared to enjoy the performance. 

The spare set is simple and clever: ladders and planks suggest aeroplane struts and fuselage; the backdrop of hanging white fabric strips echoes the fragility of these early flying machines. Stage props are effective – an antique telephone, thermos, torch, maps et al – and also work well to set the scene: a hotel suite in Sydney, while Jean is waiting, waiting, waiting, for the weather to clear for her last leg to New Zealand.

Here, actress Alex Ellis is increasingly frenetic, perhaps with not enough light and shade in her portrayal to fully engage this audience and win their sympathy. The most moving scene in the play is when Jean is talking, very touchingly, about her mother and the support and love she has always given her.  By and large though, even understanding how difficult it is to be the solo actor holding all together, this reviewer finds the performance somewhat patchy.

Ellis as Jean wears flying goggles and jacket episodically – they look great – over a full length white satin dress (her Ginger Rogers get-up). She clambers up and down ladders, the dress tangling around her ankles, surely an accident waiting to happen.  As a suggestion, how about wide pants, a la Katherine Hepburn, with the swift addition of ankle clips when minor mountaineering?   They would be equally effective for the dance scenes and certainly less hazardous.

Sound effects are excellent.  Plane engine noises, of great variety, intersperse the play and the music is authentically of the period and suitably positive.  It is clever to clip accessories in the backdrop hangings though would it not be an improvement to have Jean go to just one place to get her messages that come thick and fast, presumably delivered to the door of her suite? 

And has the director considered using back projection at the end of the show, with the film clip of Jean arriving in New Zealand?   It would be most effective and bring the enactment and reality happily together.


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Prime of Miss Jean Batten

Review by Janet McAllister 01st Apr 2016

The “Garbo of the Skies” legend of Jean Batten is both fascinating and powerful: cool, glamorous and supposedly manipulative, the great aviator cannibalised her admirers’ planes to patch up her own.

This Flaxworks production mentions the boyfriends but ignores the image, and instead presents a girlish Jean, enthusiastic and sweet. Stuck in Sydney in 1936 on her way to being the first person – male or female – to fly from England to New Zealand, she sketches out her adventures in flying and fame.

As Jean, Alex Ellis is playful and graceful – peeling off a flying jacket to reveal a remarkable pitch-perfect Elizabeth Whiting confection – but little is shown of the steely resolve that one might expect in a woman who performs daring feats in a man’s world. [More


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Solo Flight

Review by Courtney Bassett 31st Mar 2016

“Flying is the easy part,” Jean Batten tells us with a smirk and a quirk of a brow. She struggles with the judgement and disapproval of men, who fear a woman will do what they never have: cross the Tasman from England to New Zealand, in her tiny plane, and break the world record. Convention and propriety are the cause of Jean’s main frustrations. Those who disapprove of her adventures seems much more of a concern to this plucky and charming character than any personal risk carried by her flying exploits.

The effort and thought that has gone into the production comes through in the quality of acting and visual design. [More


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Fascinating, appealing, stimulating, stirring

Review by Leigh Sykes 29th Mar 2016

On a very simple set, with a simple, yet ravishingly beautiful costume, Alex Ellis gives us an utterly engaging, thought-provoking performance as Miss Jean Batten.

We meet Jean in 1936 as she waits for clear weather to allow her to complete her record-breaking flight from England to New Zealand. She is stuck in the luxury of the Hotel Australia, desperate to carry on her flight, but forced to deal with all of the obstacles thrown in her way. The era is evoked with light yet effective touches, such as the music that plays as the lights come up, and the delightfully cut-glass accent that Jean uses when speaking to her well-wishers and the press.

Alex Ellis is immediately engaging. She involves the audience from the get-go, and invites us to be her sounding board, friend, confidante and admirer, and I must admit, I become an admirer very quickly. She addresses us directly, involving us so easily with a beaming smile, a knowing glance or thoughtful expression. This audience members feels somewhat privileged to hear her thoughts and reminiscences, while also feeling for the difficulties she has encountered.

John Parker’s set gives us the barest outline of a bi-plane: a tall stepladder shape with two large beams set horizontally across two of the steps made of bare wood and white fabric, exactly as Batten’s plane was. The suggestion is that this is the place where Jean feels most at home, and most herself.

In Ellis’ assured performance, this set becomes a luxury hotel room, a landing strip, Jean’s cockpit and the scene of a range of memories. She uses the set with a wonderful economy, moving simply from one side to the other or to a different level to move back in time, or begin a new memory. The majority of the props, including flowers, letters, newspapers and even a bottle of champagne, are made from, or covered with, a range of maps, that serves to re-inforce Jean’s need to keep moving forward and keep exploring.

Elizabeth Whiting’s costume design includes the iconic flying jacket and helmet in our first glimpse of Jean, but underneath is a gorgeous one-piece, made of heavy white silk. The full legs of the suit appear to be a long flowing dress, or overalls, depending on the situation and the fabric means that every movement is accompanied by flow and sound and texture that is a nod to the unaccustomed luxury Jean finds herself in on this enforced stopover, as well as a reminder of the practicality of Jean’s flight overalls. Jean tells us that among the many things crammed into her tiny cockpit, she always carries a dress and shoes, as demanded by her mother, and this beautiful costume fulfils that role with aplomb.

As Jean shares her thoughts with us, we become acquainted with the lengths she will go to in order to continue to be an adventurer. Phil Ormsby’s fascinating and stirring play touches on the sentiments of the time: the opinions that cast Jean as wilful and reckless; the casual sexism that refuses to consider the idea of a married woman being an aviatrix; the men who only want Jean to carry out safe adventures that are far from her desire to be a trail-blazer and the sacrifices that had to be made to allow Jean to follow her dreams.

Amanda Rees directs the ever changing scenes with an assured hand that moves us from high adventure to deep emotion with a speed and clarity that allows the story to unfold in an organic and deeply satisfying manner. Supported by Thomas Press’ sound design and Ruby Reihana-Wilson’s lighting design, we are able to experience crash landings, press calls, nightmares and everything in between in an engaging and affecting way.

However, the show ultimately belongs to Alex Ellis. Her ‘Miss Batten’, with a specific glance at the audience, has us laughing out loud one moment and gasping with sympathy the next. We empathise with her mistakes with men and feel her emotion as she relives the hardships her mother faced in order to support her. Ellis is able to move between emotions in the twinkling of an eye, giving us a believable and very human heroine.

We are able to experience Jean’s triumph as she reaches Auckland, where the comment that she is “a very naughty girl” is accepted by her as praise rather than disparagement. I am happy to also add my praise to this appealing and stimulating show.


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