Good news stories are few and far between, so any positive coverage from the tragedy of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 is all the more precious. Recounting the generosity of the people of Gander in Newfoundland to those stranded when flights were diverted on that dreadful day becomes a testament to the better part of human nature – making this musical from Irene Sankoff and David Hein truly inspiring.
One of many winning elements here is the strong sense of place created for the island called ‘The Rock’ that the audience, like the stranded passengers, find themselves visiting. Careful research and the Celtic-inspired music, performed superbly, make the location convincing without even a set. Firmly rooted in the chaos of events and ensuing emotions, the score perfectly reflects the drama and diverse reactions to it.
Depicting residents and visitors are a cast of just 12, although it’s hard to believe at times. Transformations are achieved with simple costumes and brilliant acting. Come from Away is a true ensemble piece – another big tick – very much to the credit of director Christopher Ashley, whose attention to detail is clear at every moment. The story is led, slightly, by Clive Carter, who plays the town’s mayor with affable energy, and Rachel Tucker, who plays a pilot and gets the most rousing solo, delivered with incredible passion. Among the many stories, two couples anchor the show with relationships beginning and ending, making meaty roles for Jonathan Andrew Hume, David Shannon, Robert Hands and Helen Hobson.
If Sankoff and Hein’s lyrics are at times prosaic, and the humour a little broad, the book is outstanding. Injecting tension into a story that’s literally about people stuck somewhere is a remarkable achievement. The sheer range of issues tackled in the show is prodigious, coming as close as possible to do doing justice to the big events of that day, while never losing focus on a small world full of intimate stories. Realism is the key, and the show never shies away from less than noble fears and prejudices – there’s more than one confrontational moment in the chaos and confusion of events. Racism and religion are deftly handled, and a number unifying the different faiths among the passengers is a real triumph.
Life-changing repercussions from the terrorist acts, and the extended stay while air space remained closed, are explored in depth. But it is a question of balance that makes the show special. Of course you expect an episode of painful grief. This comes with the case of a mother who has lost her son (a role Cat Simmons excels in), where the candid and respectful handling of the story is impressive. But there’s also the figure of a young man who finds himself more at home away from home. Nathanael Campbell holds his own in this far less dramatic role, and its intriguing inclusion shows the scope of the impact of events with quiet intelligence. Focusing on ordinary stories and regular people is the key, and it’s all perfectly pitched to emphasise each story’s power and importance.
Until September 2019
Photos by Matthew Murphy