Tag Archives: James Doherty

“Come From Away” at the Phoenix Theatre

Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s heart-warming musical is a true tonic that’s guaranteed to raise spirits. It’s feelgood, for sure, but grown-up, too. Based on the true story of air passengers stranded in Newfoundland because of the 9/11 attacks on America, there are hard-hitting moments. But the folk of Gander, who looked after the ‘plane people’ forced to stay with them, show the very best of human nature.

Sankoff and Hein depict a cross-section of travellers and the local community that could be dizzying. Christopher Ashley’s direction is essential for clarity. The point is to show us the gamut of emotions and circumstances, to give us glimpses of lives before, during and after the crisis. With the cast performing multiple roles, several characters manage to stand out to great effect.

The music, inspired by Newfoundland’s Celtic heritage, is rousing, raucous and dramatic, managing to provide a real sense of place. And you will be humming the tunes the next day. If some lyrics are repetitious, they are always efficient. Even humour is crammed in. The key lies in using all members of the cast: their work as a chorus mirrors their characters’ parts in a close-knit community.

Fun comes from the eccentricities of the locals, established quickly and successfully. It could be an odd contrast with the trauma of those coming off the planes, but fear and anger are dealt with sympathetically. And it’s notable that metropolitan prejudices about small places are called into question aplenty. The joy of Come From Away is that it deals with a cliché – of ordinary people doing extraordinary things – so very well.

There is nothing ordinary about the dozen cast members who take on the responsibility of telling the story. They flit around roles with remarkable skill, and also manage to focus on key story lines that take turns to touch hearts, heads and funny bones.

The character of Hannah, worried for her firefighting son back in New York, is sure to stand out, but Gemma Knight Jones, who takes the part, is outstanding. Jonathan Andrew Hume and Mark Dugdale’s storyline as a gay couple does a lot of work to question assumptions and the performers are excellent. Another romance, between Kate Graham’s Diane and Alasdair Harvey’s Nick, is sweet. All the while, James Doherty’s mayor marshals the action. That’s only half the cast, so forgive me. The real achievement is the work of everyone on stage as an ensemble – moving together and sounding fantastic – bringing both energy and sensitivity to a great story.


Photo by Craig Sugden

“In Lipstick” at the Pleasance Theatre

You might want some quiet time after Annie Jenkins’ new play. That it creates a need to pause for thought is the first recommendation for this high quality show. A modest story of two troubled women, whose relationship is disrupted when one starts an affair with a colleague, Jenkins aims for a fresh look at family and offers insight into safety, security and love.

The bizarre bond between housemates Cynthia and the older Maud is both disquieting and reassuring – a powerful observation on intense affection. The younger is an agoraphobic insomniac and the other a former victim of domestic abuse with an alcohol problem, so you’d expect the play to be grim. But the couple have moments of blissful abandon, with their “songs and stories” containing “glitter and sparkle”, as they perform Shirley Bassey songs and eat chicken nuggets. They’ve been happy in their isolated world. Yet as Maud begins her affair with Dennis, who we learn has his own demons, a sense of threat grows.

The trio of characters benefit from sterling depictions by the talented cast. Caroline Faber and James Doherty play the middle aged couple to perfection in their awkward courting scenes. Faber’s work alongside Cynthia is just as strong; a mix of maternal exasperation and tenderness with a touch of fear. As Cynthia, Alice Sykes gives a phenomenally committed performance establishing the complex vulnerability of the role from the start, always maintaining intrigue; the glimpse of her applying lipstick through her tears is tremendously powerful.

For all the praise that the performers deserve, the characters never quite convince. The dialogue feels contrived, not just the stories told but the obsession with facts that reflects a search for stability. There is a literary feel to the play that shows unquestionable promise on Jenkins part but is also studied. Situations are both banal and extraordinary so there’s a conflict between motivations that aren’t entirely credible yet a show that works overall. The biggest accolade should go to director Alice Hamilton whose work ensures the production’s success. Using a revolving stage and plenty of incidental music, the play is paced bravely showing confidence and giving the audience time to absorb. The atmosphere Hamilton creates perfectly complements the play. With a manic final scene the tempo escalates thereby increasing the shock of events and leaving the piece’s culminating cry for help as a forlorn moment of theatrical potency.

Until 27 January 2019


Photo by Ali Wright