This 9/11-set musical is a gently miraculous masterpiece
Musicals don’t come much more low-key, wholesome or Canadian than ‘Come from Away’. Writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein cook up the straightforward world of the Newfoundland town of Gander using a very straightforward set of ingredients. The cast wear sensible shoes and lumberjack shirts. They tramp across a wood-decked stage that evokes the huge skies of their tiny island. They sing their way through a set of folk-tinged songs that tell stories of the five days after 9/11, when 38 planes made emergency landings on the island’s huge, disused airstrip. And it’s all totally, soul-feedingly wonderful.
‘Come from Away’ has been a massive sleeper hit across North America, Broadway included, and it’s easy to see why: it mixes down-home authenticity with the desperate intensity that comes in times of crisis. This is a moment where 7,000 temporary arrivals join a community of just 9,000 people. Logistics might not be the sexiest of topics for a musical, but one of the many surprising joys of this show is how gripping it makes things like the struggle to rustle up transport at a time when the local school bus drivers were on strike and had to be coaxed into crossing the picket line. Then there are beds, food, medication and interpreters to be sourced for passengers from across the world: one non-English-speaking couple communicates by cross-referencing Bible verses.
Based closely on interviews with real Newfoundlanders, this is a picture of a community that stretches itself to breaking point to accommodate the stranded travellers. Like the local animal shelter worker who battles to rescue furry cargo from the planes’ holds, including cats, dogs and a pregnant bonobo ape. Or the schoolteacher who offers comfort to a New Yorker whose firefighter son is missing.
It feels so organic that you almost don’t notice how carefully it’s been crafted. Individual stories are woven through rousing, foot-stomping, all-company choruses. Actors swap between playing locals and incomers with a fluidity that shows it’s just chance separating the two. It makes you look inwards to ask: what would I do in their place?
The show’s message about the power of doing good is underscored by darker notes. Among the waves of queasy post-9/11 fear, a Muslim traveller is treated with suspicion along with kindness, and subjected to a humiliating strip search. Another young New Yorker feels so welcome on the island that it makes him mourn the community and safety he’s missing back home.
‘Come from Away’ creates a kind of temporary utopia: a little world where (almost) everyone is forced, by earth-shattering events hundreds of miles away, to come together and build a community based on principles of generosity and care. It’s seductive in its resolute unsexiness, and its gentle uncynical warmth spills off the stage, extending a hug to an audience that wouldn’t dream of turning it away.
|Venue name:||Phoenix Theatre|
Charing Cross Road
|Transport:||Tube: Leicester Square/Tottenham Court Road|
|Price:||£19.50–£120. Runs 1hr 40min (no interval)|
Average User Rating
4.8 / 5
- 5 star:16
- 4 star:2
- 3 star:1
- 2 star:0
- 1 star:0
Not advisable for people who are sensitive. It is a very stressful show which is a pitty since they could have set the focus much more on the positive relations which developed through the incident and funny stories. Instead they focussed way too much on anxiety stress and the negative aspects making the audience feel stressed 90% of the show. In an era of burn out people don’t come to the theatre to get their stress levels increased even more(lol) however I am aware that this is completely subjective. Just want to emphasise that this is nothing for anyone who is sensitive to stress and easily annoyed.
Also the American accents were a bit over the top which impacted the singing in a negative way. Honest feedback is valuable that’s why I give it and also to warn anyone who is sensitive or expecting a positive uplifting musical .. a pity cause I think the story has much more potential for being happy and funny. Anyways it’s completely subjective -the actors were good!! And the music was amazing!
Phoenix theatre is anything but comfortable though which is shocking for these expensive prices. If you’re taller than 1.75cm it is a nightmare don’t do it there is no space for your legs - it is shocking that they do not warn about this since some people can’t even fit into the chairs and have to sit on the stairs when they are tall -and this is a setting which is not acceptable due to the high price of the tickets.
Phoenix theatre should educate people about this before buying tickets and have solutions for people with long legs.
I have nothing but praise for this brilliant show. Completely away from the normal beat of musicals this is the show for everyone. From the beginning you are absolutely engaged and enthralled. The use of a simple moving stage, some chairs and simple stage furniture conjure everything from the inside of a jumbo jet to a Newfoundland bar. The songs are relentless and pure magic, taking you through every possible emotion. The ensemble acting and musicianship is simply amazing. By the end you feel that you have been through the whole experience, as a passenger and as a town resident. You come away uplifted and smiling. I need to see this again and again
Covering an international event that effected every person uniquely is a very impressive undertaking for a hour and a half play, but Come from Away accomplishes just that. A hybrid of energetic folk music and theatrics brings a small town in Newfoundland to life as they welcome strangers from abroad into their lives. I was really impresssed with the casts ability to each play multiple characters, while keep them distinct and personal enough that from the first word they say you know the characters situation.
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