In a short and sweet 100 minutes Come From Away tells the true story of a small Canadian town where 38 planes had to be suddenly grounded in the state of international emergency that followed 9/11.
The town of Gander doubled in population, as 7,000 strangers from all around the world were left stranded, scared and trapped inside planes for 28 hours with no information. They were greeted with whole-hearted hospitality by the Gander residents who rallied around to provide food, shelter and huge smiles.
Creative couple Irene Sankhoff and David Hein wrote the book, lyrics and score to celebrate the inspiring story without any shmaltz. Culture clashes sharpen the comedy and prevent anything too twee: ‘have we gone back in time?’ quips a Cosmopolitan New Yorker when met with such open-armed sincerity.
And the vivacity of the music steers away from mawkishness. Reverbing rock guitars meet the trills of a fiddle and flute to jubilant effect in soaring ensemble songs such as ‘Screech In’. And there’s a gentler folkiness as softer songs hone in on the individual stories.
The show mirrors its content; despite awards and acclaim on Broadway, there’s a makeshift cosiness and pared-back authenticity to the production. On a rustic set of wooden boards, with minimal props, and band at the back of the stage, costumes of dowdy denim and sensible shoes capture the early noughties aesthetic.
An energetic ensemble cast of 12 switch roles to play both the Islanders and the ‘come from aways’. Their commitment to a multitude of characters is boosted by mastery of accents, slipping from the distinctive Irish/Canadian twang of the Newfoundlanders to the global cacophony of the ‘plane people’.
The narratives weave together, showing the breadth and far-reaching repercussions while honing on individual experiences. There’s the unlikely love story, the feminist triumph of a female pilot, a mother desperate to hear from her son in the New York fire department, and even a pregnant bonobo ape caged in the plane’s hold.
In the chaos and panic of displacement we see a different side to a disaster that is ingrained in collective memory. Without ever undermining the gravity and tragedy, Come From Away puts kindness in the spotlight. And it does so with such zest and purity that it’s utterly impossible to be cynical.
You will cry happy tears. You will whoop as you clap. And you will be ready to up sticks and move to Gander.
|What||Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre review|
|Where||Phoenix Theatre, 110 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0JP | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Tottenham Court Road (underground)|
30 Jan 19 – 14 Sep 19, Monday to Saturday 19:30, Wednesday and Saturday matinees 14:30
|Website||Click here to book now|