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Adrian Kimberlin - After This Plane Has Landed Interview

After This Plane Has Landed is a new musical dramedy by Adrian Kimberlin from Exit Productions. The new piece is based on the real-life stories of Jill Morrell and John McCarthy.

The couple made headlines in 1986 when John, a British journalist, was kidnapped in war-torn Beirut. Jill, frustrated by government inaction, resolved to raise awareness and formed the campaign group The Friends of John McCarthy. For more than five years, McCarthy remained hostage. The show places a sharp focus on the human elements of the situation exploring the events beyond the reunion under intense media spotlight.
Adrian Kimberlin

The production is set to preview at The Dark Horse in Moseley in Birmingham from the 15th to 18th June with the show then playing at the Edinburgh Fringe at theSpace @ Surgeons' Hall from the 4th to 26th August.

I sat down with Adrian to discuss the piece.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the show?
It’s a musical dramedy exploring the relationship of Jill Morrell and John McCarthy.
The couple made headlines in 1986 when John, a British journalist was kidnapped in Beirut on the actual day he was due to return to the UK where he and Jill, also a journalist, planned to marry and embark on their future together. Instead, frustrated by government inaction, Jill resolved to bring awareness to the plight of her partner. ‘The Friends Of John McCarthy’ campaign group was formed and Jill worked relentlessly in an attempt to secure his release. For more than five desperate years, McCarthy was held in squalid conditions, his life under constant threat.

The show focuses on their experiences of lengthy separation, a joyous reunion and then the efforts to rebuild their lives in the face of intense press attention and the fairytale expectations of an enthralled public.

In its full form, the piece is around 90 minutes long, however for these initial showcase performances it’s been condensed into a one-hour version.  

Can you tell me what inspired the piece and why you wanted to tell this story?
Following the very positive reaction to my previous musical, ‘The Stars That Remain’, I was keen to follow up with a more compact ‘two-hander’ based on true events. Completely by chance I stumbled upon video footage of John McCarthy who, alongside his broadcasting and writing career, is an inspirational public speaker. Appropriately enough, I was indeed inspired and vividly recalled his and Jill’s heart rending story. I thought it would really lend itself to a contemporary musical adaptation and that the subject matter would not only resonate with those of a certain generation but also appeal to a younger audience.

What sort of research were you doing about Jill Morrell and John McCarthy and their experiences as you wrote the piece?
Source material was drawn from far and wide as I began developing a style and narrative for the new work. Newspaper archives and documentary footage proved invaluable, as did reference to John and Jill’s co-written book, ‘Some Other Rainbow’ as well as a number of radio interviews spanning decades. The opening scene in fact takes place in the aftermath of a 2009 BBC Radio 4 appearance where Jill and John were reunited with his fellow Beirut hostages Brian Keenan and Terry Waite. I felt it was my duty to be loyal to the facts surrounding the story though of course, and in time-honoured tradition, some scenes are imagined for creative and dramatic effect.

How have you gone about crafting the music into the human story of these two people and their lives?
For me, it’s essential that the music and lyrics work seamlessly together to convey emotion. When dialogue alone is not enough, the characters are compelled to sing. Inevitably some of the numbers are more literal and serve to push the story forward but I do believe that any new musical worth its salt must contain the ‘holy trinity’ of ‘hallelujah’ songs, comedy songs and ballads. With ‘After This Plane Has Landed’ I’ve opted for a ‘stripped down’ musical palette and arranged predominantly for piano, bass, drums, guitar and cello. Unsurprisingly, the score contains a high proportion of duets! 

How important do you think it is that audiences take chances on new pieces of work like this?
I think there’s never been a more important time for new, original writing to be given its chance to flourish. The pandemic of course was a devastating period not only for the arts in general, but for live theatre in particular. As the industry finds it feet once more there seems to be an over reliance on staging familiar and ‘safe’ productions - virtually every week sees the launch of a so-called new musical with songs shoe-horned into the plot of a well-known movie, or a show built around the back catalogue of a popular music act or genre. All well and good but this climate does generate a disproportionate amount of coverage for those ‘big-hitters’ and limits the space available for wholly original and fresh work to attract and grow an audience. The good news however is that Fringe venues are alive and kicking and innovative ‘pop-up’ spaces and pub theatres are hosting independent and edgy productions. That’s precisely where we’re heading to get ‘ATPHL’ off the ground and find our tribe!

What do you want an audience member to take away from seeing the show?
I really want the audience to have the sense that they’re alongside John and Jill on their separate and intertwined journeys into unknown territory. Both characters are inspirational and eminently likeable so this shouldn’t be too great an ask.

More than anything though, I hope that audiences are moved by the show. Yes, the core subject is fascinating, remarkable and unique but many of the themes remain universal and relatable. I guess we’ve all experienced elation, fear, separation and the like, so it’s my intention that the songs strike a real chord and people think ‘I know exactly how that feels.’

Could you describe the show in just 3 words?
Yes I could: Drama! Songs! Emotion! (Oops, does that count as six?)

After This Plane Has Landed plays at The Dark Horse in Moseley, Birmingham from 15th to 18th June. It then plays theSpace at Surgeons' Hall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival playing from 4th to 26th August with tickets available from

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