Book, Music and Lyrics: Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Director: Christopher Ashley
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
It’s surprising that this Tony-nominated musical has taken so long to reach London. Come From Away, about plane passengers diverted on the day of 9/11, is the perfect show to thaw the cynicism of our current times.
When America closed its airspace after the attack on The World Trade Center, flights from all over the globe were diverted, including 38 planes that were ordered to land at Gander, a small town in Newfoundland. As 7,000 weary and scared passengers disembarked, the population of the town almost doubled. In Come From Away we see 12 of these temporary refugees warily leave the planes or the buses that they were moved to, worried of the welcome they might receive.
But the people of Gander are open-armed, generous with food and supplies as well as their time. The new arrivals thank the Gander inhabitants. ‘You’d do the same’ one of the locals tells his guest. The latter hesitates to agree, and it’s all too easy to make parallels with the way we deal with refugees in Britain. The welcome Gander provides is humbling.
In this production of Come From Away, the Newfoundland inhabitants seem even friendlier with their Irish accents. This is not due to the fact that this show was in Dublin before it came to the Phoenix Theatre, but for the simple reason that Newfoundlanders speak in West Country or Irish dialects. But as well as the accents, most of the songs in the musical have their roots in Irish music, such as the jig, which appears in the very lively Screech Inand the opening number Welcome to the Rock.
The cast of 12 work very hard, each doubling or even tripling up, playing both the hosts and the passengers. Hats and accents change accordingly. The closest we get to a lead is the airline pilot Beverley Bass, who was, incidentally, the first female pilot to lead an all-female crew in airline history. Here, Rachel Tucker plays Beverley, and she flies in, probably, the best song of the show Me and the Sky, and then soars again in Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere.
Jenna Boyd stands out as the magnanimous Beulah, and Cat Simmons is very good as Hannah, a passenger worried about her fire-fighter son who is based in Manhattan. For a show about 9/11,it is surprisingly funny and a good deal of the humour comes from the very capable Nathanael Campbell, a cynical city dweller. Indeed, with the focus on the ‘feel-good’ any darker material seems to be directed to how some passengers treat Ali, a Muslim, played by Jonathan Andrew Hume.
The speedy direction of Christopher Ashley means that the show is over in 100 minutes, played through without an interval. Beowulf Boritt’s unfussy stage design also ensures that things keep moving, with the actors quickly arranging chairs to create the interiors of planes or bars. The band is visible at the corners of the stage, and they work just as hard as the cast.
Despite the catchy tunes and the humour there is, as the title of one of the songs suggests, Something Missing. The characters all are offered catharsis, and yet that feeling of redemption doesn’t quite reach the audience. But of all the musicals opening in London this spring, Come From Away will be hard to beat.
Booking until 14 September 2019 | Image: Contributed