Come From Away: Phoenix Theatre, London
Reviewed 23rd February 2019
Broadway’s breathtaking new musical written by Tony® nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein, and directed by Tony-winning Best Director, Christopher Ashley tells the remarkable true story of true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. The 9/11 terrorist act which shook the world also had huge impact on those thousands of miles away living in Newfoundland where the small town of Gander set about caring for stranded, scared passengers who had been diverted and grounded due to the horrors unfolding in New York. This emotional story shows the lives of just some of those ‘Come From Aways‘ caught up in the horrors. The clash of cultures, the nerves and uneasiness which eventually grew into gratitude and friendship.
There are few shows which tell such a tragic, important, heartwarming story yet manage to do so with humour, humility and conviction as Come From Away does. The spellbinding storytelling from the outstanding cast throughout the production is spectacular. Combining moments of sheer despair with moments of humour makes Come From Away a rollercoaster of emotions. One that everyone should ride. The production has heart and soul and invites everyone to remember those who were lost in the terror of 9/11 but also those who survived, those who were ‘found’. It reminds us of the positive impacts that we can have even in the face of tragedy.
The relatively small cast of just 12 take on multiple roles throughout the production from the Islanders to the ‘Come From Aways’ and do so with conviction and ease. This clever concept alone highlights the fact that we can be both the one in need of help or giving help at any one minute. Whilst the show does have some notable characters it is completely told through the ensemble – there are no star names, or lead characters. Everyone is equal; equally important and equally respected. Normally reviews will name some particular cast members, their performance or stage presence but in this production’s case it is just not possible. Every single member of the cast are outstanding and give everything to their character! The cast barely leave the stage during the 100 minute production, switching from character to character through subtle changes such as props/costumes and accents. Yet it is never confusing. The superb direction by Christopher Ashley and musical staging by Kelly Devine allows the audience to truly get sucked into the narrative and drawn into the story onstage. The use of narration throughout the show also helps to guide the audience and certainly helps to move the production on – at no point does this show feel like it is dragging, every element is needed to tell the story.
For a show which is about a terrorist act which killed thousands it is surprisingly funny. Not in a disrespectful way, but in an honest way. Come From Away needs this humour, it lightens the mood and shows us that the Islanders and ‘Come From Aways’ are human, normal, everyday people whose lives were turned upside down on the 11th September 2001. However despite these moments of humour, the show is also full of the emotion you’d expect and the cast take their role very seriously – they understand the importance of this story and it shows through their committed performances.
The simple scenery, designed by Beowulf Boritt, is beautiful and makes for a brilliant backdrop to the story. With no large set pieces, only a series of wooden chairs, the use of the space is wonderful. It is not hard at all to imagine the crowded school hall; bustling Gander airport; the lively pub and the inside of the cramped airplanes through the clever use of the stage. The use of a revolve is a nice addition, although perhaps not vital to the show. The simple choreography also helps to tell the story and make all of the transitions smooth between locations and plot lines. There are no dead moments during the show – each second is filled and utilised.
From the very opening number Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s music and lyrics have a unique sound. Mixing Newfoundland’s unique heritage and music to create tunes which are catchy and tell a story at the same time. The harmonies are gorgeous and the layers which are created through some of the most tense scenes are so intricate and clever to listen to. Each cast member’s vocals are utilised and used effectively during the show. It is almost impossible not to leave the theatre singing ‘I’m An Islander‘ amongst many other catchy moments from the show. Nor is it easy to leave the theatre without having shed a tear during this emotive show.
It’s rare for theatre to be a must-see, as with all arts it is very subjective and everyone’s differing opinions. Come From Away however is a show which everyone should see. Its moving true storyline, innovative staging, emotive characters and fresh music shows how we can truly support each other and find positives even in our darkest moments. Do everything you can to see this new musical! You will not regret it.
Come From Away is currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre. For information and tickets click here.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy