Come From Away

Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Smith and Brant Theatricals, Red Hanger UK Ltd, Gavin Kalin Productions, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Echo Lake Entertainment UK Ltd, Square Peg, Stephen and Paula Reynolds, Fiery Dragons, Judith Ann Abrams Productions/Peter May, Nancy Gibbs in association with Curve
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Chorus of Come From Away
Diane (Kirsty Hoiles) and Nick (Daniel Crowder)
Chorus of Come From Away

What a surprise.

A musical about flights grounded in the back of beyond due to 9/11? Rather a strange premise for a fun night out, but what a delight.

Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein have taken the somewhat quirky tale of 38 aircraft and 6,500 passengers and crew (and myriad animals) landing in Gander, Newfoundland, bewildered and abandoned in the aftermath of the shocking terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and, perhaps controversially, turned it into a feel-good, fun and entertaining musical.

With live Irishesque music (via a range of instruments including nylon guitar, fiddle, Uilleann pipes, bouzouki and bodhran) from eight on-stage musicians and a range of tables and chairs, 12 versatile actors transport the audience to the town on a large rock at the edge of the world where 10,000 residents are swamped with incoming passengers in need of—well everything.

(Sankoff and Hein don’t just provide the book but also the music and lyrics—not particularly memorable but pacy and apposite.)

Rallying to provide beds, clothes, food and toiletries—cue “Blankets and Bedding”—the school bus strike is parked, barbecues gathered, casseroles and cod au gratin cooked en masse and supermarkets stripped of all essentials as the community turns the halls, schools into shelter and the ice hockey rink into the world’s largest fridge.

The stalwart chorus morph seamlessly and unmistakeably from townsfolk to incomers with a switch of glasses or scarves, posture or jacket; accents are pinned and the stage peopled with tales to tell.

The Paris to Dallas flight, with American Airways’ first female pilot Beverley Bass as captain, is one of those diverted, its passengers trapped in the plane for more than 24 hours, unaware of the New York horrors.

There is Hannah, mother of a New York firefighter desperate to contact her son; community-spirited Beulah, also a firefighter’s mother, teller of bad jokes and township dynamo (and director of top cardiologists volunteering for toilet-cleaning duty); Kevin and Kevin uncertain of their reception in a clearly religious community; and untrusting Bob, whose unlikely friendship, cemented by strong whiskey, with the mayor has endured.

Bonnie is unstoppable in her mission to look after the animal cargo—including an epileptic cat and a pregnant bonobo ape; rookie reporter Janice is in her first week of work and is soon directing the delivery of toilet rolls and broadcasting updates like a pro; while very English oil exec Nick and American divorcee Diane shyly flirt.

The challenges are given a light but emphatic touch: the African couple scared as the uniformed Salvation Army race forward to greet them; the language barriers; the rise of Islamophobia experienced by internationally-renowned Egyptian chef Ali; religious sensitivities (with a beautiful medley in "Prayer"); the secrets and dietary requirements of the deluge of billeted incomers.

Tony award-winner Christopher Ashley’s direction keeps it slick and precise, while Beowulf Boritt’s set is simple wood-clad backing and plenty of trees with numerous chairs and tables facilitating café, buses, clifftop path, aeroplanes, school and bar.

Add a bit of 'screech', sou’westers and cod-kissing, and this is an unmissable straight-through 100 minutes.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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