Review of 'Come From Away'

come_from_away.jpg https://comefromawaylondon.co.uk/

“Come From Away” is the hit musical relating the touching and uplifting story of the airline passengers diverted to Gander, Newfoundland (Canada) after being caught up in the grounding of all flights during the 9/11 disaster in New York City. There were 7,000 people on 38 planes that were forced to land at Gander which, due to being a former fuel stop for transatlantic flights, had sufficient tarmac space for such a large number of aircraft. The musical is based on this real story and the real people caught up in it…

The story begins as the people of Gander go about their every day life: The policeman catching speeding cars, the mayor in discussions with striking bus drivers, the daily meet-up at Tim Horton's…When news of the incoming visitors hits the town swings into action – The school, normally used by 400 students, prepares to house 700 passengers; The mayor establishes a truce with the striking bus drivers; All aircraft controllers head to the airport to help control the chaos in an airport that normally only handles a few flights a day; The policeman visits the local Shoppers Drug Mart for medical supplies, told to take as much as he wanted at no charge; Neighbouring villages come forward to offer accommodations as well as just ordinary citizens willing to open their homes to these unexpected guests; The local ice rink used as a make-shift freezer for food supplies. The planes sat on the runway for a long time often with the passengers having little idea what was going on in an age where not everyone had a mobile phone – Up to 28 hours confined to their plane as security checks take place to ensure they do not pose a terrorist threat. Eventually they are allowed off the planes and taken to their temporary accommodation…and finally learn of the disaster that has changed the world forever.

The musical focuses in on a few individuals: A gay couple at odds with their feelings on the situation; A Muslim man who is immediately under suspicion after the events in New York; An divorced lady heading to Dallas strikes up an unlikely relationship with a divorced man from the UK en route to a conference in the US; The SPCA worker who is determined to get distressed animals off the planes despite the security measures in place; A young street-wise man from New York coming to terms with a much more trusting and friendly society – When told to take barbecues from the yards of citizens for a big cook-up those same citizens invite him in for a drink; A woman frantically trying to find out whether her fireman son from New York is OK, filling his answering machine with desperate messages; A lady pilot who struggles to comes to grip with the terror that her profession is now entwined with…The “Come from Aways” (the Newfoundland phrase describing visitors to their province) eventually leave on Saturday when the travel ban is lifted – Five days after they arrived in a small town in the middle of no where leaving their mark in the hearts of all involved.

At 100 minutes with no interval the time just flies by with the action on the stage never letting up. The simple staging with two halves of the small band on either side and stage lights affixed to tree trunks leaving an open area that used to great effect…it is amazing how seated actors on two rows of chairs vividly evokes the feel of an aircraft. Many of the small cast fill multiple roles but do so to great effect with quick costume changes par for the course. They all have tremendous voices and do a great job with the unusual “newfie” accent despite none of the London cast being from Newfoundland nor even having ever visited. This accent can prove troublesome to theatre goers as the dialog comes thick and fast from the very beginning.

The music is great with a few numbers, particularly “Welcome to the Rock” ringing in my ears for many hours after the show. The songs are all full of life but also humanity as the characters struggle to get to grips with what is going on.

This is a very special musical because of it's tie to real people and real events. A musical with real heart and an ever present sense of pathos underlying the events on the stage. It does not trivialise the trauma involved here but rather handles it in a very human and compassionate way. Moving, amazing and often funny – everything a musical should be.


I was very lucky to attend a question and answer session with four of the cast members (Harry Morrison who plays “Oz and others”, Mary Doherty who plays “Bonnie and others”, Jenna Boyo who plays “Beulah and othes”, and Emma Salvo who lays “Janice and others” who joined later in the 30 minute talk). Asked why the musical is just so great they suggested it is because of the sense of community and hope that showed the best in people when put through tremendous strain. They all agreed the accent was difficult to muster and they have all been to a “screech-in” at a London bar to become honorary Newfoundlanders which involves drinking the toxic Newfie “Screech” alcohol and kissing a dead fish which was getting a bit ripe after being kissed by 20 people in a hot basement. They told us that when in the background of the action on the stage they have been told to make up dialog to keep the hubbub of the action. Challenges include trying to be true to the characters they are portraying, though often these characters are made up of multiple real-life people – Not parodying the characters but being honest and faithful to their spirit. Many of the real people involved in the story have seen the show and the cast are always extremely happy to see and talk with them. They are often worried that these people would be offended but, in fact, they are more concerned about being treated like hicks – Which this musical in no way does. The cast all have an emotional attachment to the show which can be seen in the pictures throughout the corridors of the theatre.

Rating:

Review Date: 2019-06-17



Phoenix Theatre

Location: London (England)

Address: Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0JP ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Trafalgar Square TUBE Leicester Square

Telephone: +44 (0) 844 871 7629

URL: https://thephoenixtheatre.co.uk/

A small hidden away theatre on Charing Cross road (entrance on Phoenix Street) known for being the home of “Blood Brothers” for many years.