‘One of the most joyous experiences you’ll encounter in the theatre’: COME FROM AWAY – West End ★★★★★

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Carole WoddisLeave a Comment

Phoenix Theatre, London

Come From Away, the story of how one small town, Gander in Newfoundland, responded to events of 9/11 when 7,000 passengers from 38 diverted aircraft landed in their midst, is one of the most joyous experiences you’ll encounter in the theatre.

Now a global phenomenon, having scooped up a shedload of awards across North America after its opening in Canada, US tours and four of our own Oliviers including this year’s Best New Musical, Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s musical simply takes you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t put you down until its 100 minutes are up.

What a glorious, heart pumping treat it is, drawn out of the darkest of days, a musical that works through presenting people as ordinary people caught in extreme circumstances acting with generosity and instant human sympathy.

So often news concentrates on the cruelty mankind bestows on each other. But Sankoff and Hein, to their credit, sought out a different story, going to visit the small community stuck out in an island off the coast of Canada, ‘between the river and the sea’ to hear the stories the community had to tell of how the event of that terrible day changed them and of how the passengers who benefited from their kindness were also changed in the process.

With a stomping back rhythm underscoring the action, we get to hear how the townspeople rallied round to provide food, heating, shelter, clothing; how they took stranded passengers into their homes and how friendships were formed, between residents and the strangers and how lasting relationships – and even love – was found during those few terrible days.

The story is a strong one but above all, this is a production to celebrate for Christopher Ashley and Kelly Devine’s terrific choreographic staging and overall ensemble. Slick, precise, and always responsive, the whole cast never falter.

And thankfully, Sankoff and Hein’s music and lyrics don’t aim for over-arching sentimentality but, basing it on Newfoundland Irish musical heritage, allow unmistakeable Irish influences to filter through and act as a leitmotif.

And interestingly, this London production is a transfer from Dublin co-produced – amongst many, many others, with Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. The Irish contribution is palpable.

© Matthew Murphy, two LA gay guys at ease in the temporary community of Gander, Newfoundland…

Much is sung through, but individual numbers work wonderfully to underline atmospheres – the panic of passengers in the diverted plane, not knowing what was happening to them, arriving in an unknown place, full of fear and uncertainties, then gradually making connections, and through the warmth of the townspeople becoming, for a short while, accepted members of that community.

Their is absolute commitment and pleasure from a cast who in their appearance represent the ordinary, communality of the everyday – housewives, policemen, fledgling broadcasters – and from passengers ranging from a Rabbi, to a Middle Eastern chef, two gays from LA, and an English executive who gradually teams up with an American to find true love.

The cast themselves are a complete joy, from Rachel Tucker’s female chief pilot, Beverley singing of her passion for flying and becoming the first female airline pilot – `Me and the Sky’ – to Cat Simmons as a grandmother anguishing over her New York firefighter grandson, wondering what has happened to him – `I am Here’.

© Matthew Murphy, Rachel Tucker, female airline pilot in full voice…

And there is laughter in the local ritual of `Screech In’ in which passengers are inaugurated into Newfoundland ways by drinking whiskey and kissing a dead fish!

There is indeed something here for everybody, culminating in a rip roaring Irish ceili finale led by the musicians who at last, out from the shadows, lead cast and by then, the audience who as one are on their feet, clapping and stamping.

It’s as if Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and River dance have smashed into each other and the result is deliriously, deliciously life-enhancingly a triumph.

Go see – and maybe several times to get its full, overflowing flavour.
Wonderful!

Come From Away
Book, Music and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Cast:

Beulah and others: Jenna Boyd
Bob and others: Nathanael Campbell
Claude and others: Clive Carter
Bonnie and others: Mary Doherty
Nick, Doug and others: Robert Hands
Diane and others: Helen Hobson
Kevin J, Ali and others: Jonathan Andrew Hume
Oz and others: Harry Morrison
Janice and others: Emma Salvo
Kevin T, Garth and others: David Shannon
Hannah and others: Cat Simmons
Beverley, Annette and others: Rachel Tucker

The Band:

Musical Director and UK Musical Supervisor, Keyboard, Harmonium and Accordion: Alan Berry
Whistles, Irish flute and Uilleann Pipes: Matt Bashford
Fiddle: Aoife Ní Bhriain
Electric, Acoustic and Nylon Guitars: Mark Wraith
Acoustic Guitar, Mandolins and Bazouki: Justin Quinn
Electric and Acoustic Bass: Joey Grant
Bodhran and Percussion: Ray Fean
Drums and Percussion: Dan Day
Associate Musical Director: Huw Evans
Electronic Music Design: Andrew Barrett (for Lionella Music LLC)
Associate Keyboard Programmer: Phij Adams
Music Preparation: Ryan Driscoll
Orchestra Management: David Gallagher

Director: Christopher Ashley
Musical staging: Kelly Devine
Music supervision and arrangements: Ian Eisendrath
Scenic design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume design: Toni-Leslie James
Lighting design: Howell Binkley
Sound design: Gareth Owen
Hair design: David Brian Brown
Orchestrations: August Eriksmoen
Casting: Pippa Ailion CDG, Natalie Gallacher CDG
Dialect Coach: Joel Goldes
Creative Consultant: Michael Rubinoff
Newfoundland Music Consultant: Bob Hallett
Dramaturg: Shirley Fishman

Associate Director and Choreographer (UK): Tara Overfield Wilkinson
Associate Lighting Designer and Programmer (UK): Warren Letton

European premiere of Come From Away, co-produced with the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Dec 2018.

First perf at the Phoenix Theatre, London on Jan 30, 2019

Original co-produced in 2015 by La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory Theatre and presented in 2016 by Ford’s Theatre, Washington DC. Repertory Theatre, and Mirvish Productions at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, Canada, in partnership with Junkyard Dog Productions.

Originally developed at the Canadian Music Theatre Project.

Runs to Feb 15, 2020

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Carole Woddis on RssCarole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.
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Carole Woddis on RssCarole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.

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