This incredible musical about the welcoming community of Gander, Canada is exactly what we need to see and hear right now – ★★★★★
In the moments following the 9/11 terrorist attack, 38 planes currently in flight were diverted to Newfoundland. Almost 7,000 strangers were welcomed as islanders by locals, and Come From Away is their inspiring story.
Welcome to the Rock, the group sing in a powerful, stomping opening number. It’s an embrace which lasts throughout the 100-minute production, capturing the attention of audience members through good humour and compelling expositions by characters.
And there’s something to be said about director Christopher Ashley’s approach to the unique personalities at the heart of this story. Performers adopt various roles with no more than a change of costume and accent in a brilliant demonstration of acting ability. It’s a sense of minimalism in the direction which extends to Kelly Devine’s musical staging and Ashley’s navigation of Beowulf Boritt’s stripped back set design. Only a couple of chairs are required to establish an environment – be it an aircraft cabin or a ceremony for new islanders involving downing whisky and kissing a dead fish. Both the acting and choreography are seamless.
Such is the collective nature of the production that it’s hard and unreasonable to identify one actor who delivers a standout performance, and nor should that be the case, considering the individual merits of each person at the heart of story. Jenna Boyd radiates charm as Beullah, Clive Carter portrays mayor Claude with gusto, and Robert Hands and Helen Hobson deliver sweet performances as Nick and Diane, who find love on the island.
While it’s inevitably the story which carries the most weight in this musical, Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s numbers still do well to strike the necessary emotion. Whether it’s the rousing 28 Hours / Wherever We Are and Screech In, or the sombre Lead Us Out of the Night, when the passengers learn what happened whilst they were up in the air.
In Stop the World, Diane points out that the continents of the world came together “five hundred and forty million years ago”, before separating again. The remark itself taps into the powerful, multicultural message at the heart of the production: that unity and community can emerge from tragedy, regardless of personal, cultural and geographical differences. In today’s fragmented and polarised climate, it’s a much needed reminder.
Come From Away is now playing at the Phoenix Theatre until 14 September.