Come From Away, a musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein at the Phoenix Theatre in London
9/11 was a tragic event carried out by evil people. The musical Come From Away is a kind of antidote, reminding us that most people are basically good and generous.
I’d forgotten but, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, US air space was closed which meant hundreds of planes were diverted. 35 of them with 7000 people on board ended up in a small Canadian community of Gander, doubling the population. The locals could have been hostile to these unexpected immigrants. Instead they welcomed and looked after them.
In this musical, we meet a diverse number of characters, locals, passengers and crew telling us their story. We get a sense of the panic and fears of the time and we zone in on some of the individuals’ stories and how they are changed by the experience.
It is not all sugar-coated. There is some anti-Muslim behaviour and inevitably some tragedy but the overriding message is one of hope.
I was impressed by the use of an almost bare stage in David Ashley‘s production. A few chairs and tables become a plane, a bus, a café and a community hall. It puts the burden on the cast to create the scenes in our imagination but this is a talented cast who also take on many parts. This is theatre and acting at its purest.
The players are all really good but I’m going to be unfair and pick out Rachel Tucker as the pilot who loves flying but has to take charge on the ground, Clive Carter as the welcoming Mayor and Cat Simmons as Hannah worried about her firefighter son.
There are a few too many characters to focus sufficiently on individual stories. There could also be more light and shade or, to be more precise, more shade. There are funny moments and there’s a love story but I would have liked to dwell a little more on the moments of sadness.
However the pace is tremendously fast and you really don’t have time to think about that. And the ending which is akin to a hoedown is hugely entertaining and uplifting.
This musical quite possibly paints too rosy a picture but I think, right now, we should treasure this positive view of humanity.
Come From Away is performing at the Phoenix Theatre London until 14 September 2019