Since making the leap to freelance life at the end of last year, I’ve not written a review of anything I’ve seen. Mainly because it’s not a good business idea to say bad things about a production or person who I may be asking to employ me at some point in the future.
But I saw a show last night that has moved me so much that I feel compelled, nay obliged to tell you about it. That show is Come From Away.
Based on the days following the tragic attacks of 9/11, we find ourselves in the small Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland, population c. 11,000. That is until American airspace is closed and 38 planes with 7000 people arrive.
Based on the real-life recollections of those involved, collected by Irene Sankoff and David Hein at the town’s 10 year anniversary event, 16000 stories are condensed into a 100 minute straight-through retelling. The result, an emotionally charged folk tale that speaks of hope and humanity in the face of adversity.
An ensemble of 12 multi-role like their lives depend on it, flitting between Newfoundlanders with their Irish-cum-Canadian twang and the Come From Aways – a term given by locals to foreign visitors – with ease.
The cast is so uniformly brilliant that it feels wrong to pick out particular performances, but Rachel Tucker’s Beverley Bass is a shining beacon in the foggy aftermath of the chaos, her performance of Me and the Sky a rousing highlight. Cat Simmons turns in a heartbreaking performance as Hannah, who just longs to hear news of her missing son and Jonathan Andrew Hume is outstanding in many roles including Ali, an Egyptian traveller who is appallingly treated in the wake of the attacks.
Innovative and seamless direction and musical staging from Christopher Ashley and Kelly Devine respectively moves the action from plane to school hall, cliff top to Tim Hortons at a rate of knots. So much so that when the show arrived at its tear jerking culmination, I felt a pang of sadness that our time with this company had already come to an end.
Come From Away is the show we all so desperately need. If you’ve found yourself feeling hopeless and helpless – and who hasn’t recently? – the best medicine you can prescribe yourself is this beautiful love letter to humankind. It’s a wake up call and a great big hug all in one. It says look at what these guys did when faced with one of the biggest atrocities in history, look at what we can do if we confront life with love and not hate.
Come From Away is currently running at the Phoenix Theatre, London