Tuesday 19 February 2019

Come From Away @ The Phoenix Theatre

Come From Away @ The Phoenix Theatre

For a musical about international relations across the Atlantic, it's fitting that the production team of Come From Away - including a long list of producers - come from both sides of the pond. With book, music and lyrics written by Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the show won at the 71st Tony Awards in 2017 and has toured extensively across the US, Canada and Ireland, before finally arriving in London's West End. It's a timely, vital production.

Colloquially known as 'the 9/11 musical', Come From Away is an ode to collaboration and a celebration of community. It's based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland off the coast of Canada whose residents, during the terrible events of 9/11, cared for over 6,500 strangers who were left stranded when their planes were diverted. These 'come from aways' were of all nationalities and, over the course of a week, were all welcomed equally, given food and shelter, and lived in a safe haven in the midst of a global crisis.

Fittingly, this is a collective story with no single narrator or standout character. The town of Gander became a microcosm of the world and the narrative of Come From Away is a collage of interwoven stories that mirrors global diversity. There are moments of racism and misogyny, but above all defiance and compassion are at the heart of the plot.

The effect is to humanise a world-changing event, to highlight the everyman, the small town folk, the otherwise unrecognised heroes. We see snatches of small moments and interactions that seamlessly blend into a broader picture, just as the folk score segues from song to dialogue and brings the whole cast together as one.

This is very much an ensemble piece. Twelve actors flit frequently between multiple roles and accents as both Newfoundlanders and 'come from aways', further cementing that sense of community. It is a remarkable achievement by them all, especially in the beautifully balanced choral singing and cleverly choreographed movement. That said, Rachel Tucker is given the standout song of the show, "Me And The Sky", which she powers out in a stunning rendition, and Cat Simmons is touchingly mournful singing "I Am Here".

Where this type of show could all too easily fall into tweeness or overwrought melodrama, Come From Away deftly sits in between. It's moving yet uplifting, tragedy balanced with lightheartedness and comedy, while the snappy dialogue and short interlinking scenes ensure it moves at a swift pace over its relatively short runtime with no interval to break the flow. In short, it's a heartwarming, feelgood musical that revels in the very best of humanity: the kindness of strangers. And in times of crisis, that's exactly what we need.


Watch: Come From Away runs at The Phoenix Theatre until September.

Come From Away @ The Phoenix Theatre
Photo: Matthew Murphy