Come From Away Review - Phoenix Theatre
Please note, the photographs used this in review may not feature the cast members mentioned as at the performance I attended, a number of roles were played by the talented understudies.
Whilst it is not uncommon for a musical to seek inspiration from real life events, I don’t think, looking back a few years now, that someone would have thought that a musical based on the events on and surrounding September 11th, 2001, would work, let alone prove to be a global hit. When you think of that day, images of the suddenly changed New York skyline and the events within the city come to mind, but musical ‘Come From Away’ takes the action away from there, focusing on what happened with the island community of Gander welcomed 7000 plane passengers from all over the world.
Having opened at the Phoenix Theatre in 2019, you haven’t got that much longer to catch this one as it flies out of the West End in early January, but don’t fret, there is a UK Tour coming.
‘Come From Away’ follows the lives of those living in Gander on that fateful day and the days that followed, along with the lives of those who ended up there when the US air space was closed, and planes were forced to land. Schools became makeshift hotels, the hockey rink a walk-in fridge and the residents of Gander opened their homes to those in need.
You would be forgiven for thinking that a show based on events that saw the world change forever would be a dreary affair, but this is, in fact, the complete opposite. It’s heartfelt, compassionate, and joyful, the personification of a warm embrace.
The cast play multiple roles throughout the production, from Gander residents to travellers and back again, effortlessly juggling it all over the show’s 100-minute non-stop running time. At this performance the roles of pilot Beverley and Gander school teacher Annette was played by Jennifer Tierney, balancing Beverley’s concerns for her co-workers and passengers and Annette’s comically overactive imagination. Jenna Boyd’s Beulah is a caring figure, looking out for those who have been taken away from those they love and making sure that everything is as secure as can be, whilst James Doherty’s Gander Mayor Claude is a whirlwind of energy, trying to make the best of a terrible situation.
Harry Morrison’s police officer Oz is lovable, making jokes and trying to raise the spirits of the ‘plane people’, with Morrison impressing greatly with his vocals as he takes on the role of a Rabbi in beautiful number ‘The Prayer’. Helen Siveter played Janice and others here, with Gander journalist Janice proving a favourite with the audience as she tries to come to terms with what she is having to report on. Kate Graham’s Diane and Robert Hands’ Nick meet as their plane lands in Gander, and these are two characters that are impossible not to love. Hands also plays Doug, husband to animal lover Bonnie (played by Kirsty Malpass).
Lejaun Sheppard’s Bob earned many a laugh, whilst Gemma Knight Jones Hannah packs an emotional punch and Matthew Whennel-Clark’s Kevin T goes through a transformation that indicates just how much an impact that day had on everyone.
In a show without an interval, ‘Come From Away’ takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster, from heartbreak to laughter, lost and found, missing home, and finding that the meaning of home has changed. The music bounces from upbeat bar songs to ballads, prayers to powerhouses, showcasing the way in which emotions can turn quickly when people are out of their comfort zones, pulled away from what they know and forced to re-evaluate.
I’ve seen this production five times now, and every time I am reminded of just how wonderful it is. So I sit here now asking myself ‘why is it closing?’. Why is a show this good, this amazing, and this popular (the house full sign is regularly seen), closing? When I first heard that it was indeed finishing it’s west end run, I didn’t have an answer to that question, but now I think that I do. This may sound odd, but I think that this show is closing because it needs to be seen. Not everyone, in the current situation, can afford to travel into London to see it. On top of ticket prices, there are travel costs and hotel fees, and for many that just isn’t possible. For many, touring productions are more accessible, and hopefully by heading out on tour in 2024, many more people will be able to see this incredibly important piece of theatre.