Female pilots in the Second World War were a rarity. As the protagonist says, women were only allowed to fly when the male pilots were too old or too broken to do it themselves.
Virginia dreamt of flying from an early age, captivated by the first biplane she saw meandering through the sky. When war broke out and planes started to be shot from the air in droves, she was permitted to sign up to learn how to fly. It wasn’t long before she was delivering aircraft that had been fixed up in the factory to the RAF bases on behalf of the Air Transport Auxiliary. In 1943, she became one of the first female workers in Britain to be paid equally to her male counterparts.
Ivory Wings flits between Virginia’s aviation adventures and an older Virginia, her brain under assault by Alzheimer’s. The contrast between her competence in the face of extraordinary dangers in the cockpit and her befuddled confusion as she tries to complete her jigsaw in later life is cruelly stark.
Susie Coreth as Virginia is far too young to be thinking about Alzheimer’s disease but nonetheless, presents a carefully observed and genuinely touching portrayal of an eroded mind. Her young Virginia is boldly pioneering and endearingly enamoured with her sweetheart, Leo. It’s a confident performance though features a few line fluffs that, no doubt, will get fixed over the next few days.
The soundtrack, a mix of classical music and original composition by pianist Anna Coreth, is well-chosen. Elgar’s Nimrod, from his Enigma Variations, is a particularly moving addition to the final scene. The live piano music adds a lovely atmosphere and helps delineate the time periods.
Director Jo Rush makes good use of the space and the typically limited Fringe set (a chair!) to add pace and visual variety to the piece. The numerous roles played by women in the Second World War are rarely given much airtime so it’s a lovely antidote to the male-dominated narrative so often presented in films like Dunkirk.
Susie Coreth’s script would probably benefit from a bit of trimming. She’s interested in the positive impact that music can have on people with dementia and does return to this topic frequently. The story might be enhanced by a little more attention to Virginia’s life after the war. However, for highlighting a little known female contribution to the war effort – and for the bucket collection after the show for Alzheimer Scotland – Coreth Arts should be commended.