Review – Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

Tuesday 19 March 2019

When Phil mentioned – to those without a soupçon of musical theatre knowledge – that he was going to this Broadway import, Come From Away most asked “what’s that?” (marketing department take note). His reply, “It’s the 9/11 musical” drew comments of “seriously?” or “you’re kidding” or the kind of incredulous expression that at best implied “too soon”.

Of course it’s not really about 9/11. That event just facilitated the story. It’s about niceness. The niceness of a Canadian town Gander (population 10,000) that for six days accommodated, fed, entertained and medicated (in both senses) over 6,600 passengers plus a cargo of animals – which included a pregnant ape – from the 38 passenger aircraft that were diverted there after the attacks.

Culled from a series of interviews with the locals by husband and wife David Hein and Irene Sankoff who then added music and lyrics and wove the extraordinary events into this show. There’s a couple of gay men surprisingly welcomed by the community, a stranded pair who meet and fall in love, a Muslim passenger treated with suspicion and a rocking knees up where the visitors are invited to be inducted into Newfoundland life by kissing a cod. As you do.

A cast of 12 play passengers, crew and the Newfoundland locals. Don’t come expecting the sequins of a 42nd St musical, instead expect plaid shirts, dowdy knitwear, clumpy boots and jackets that would feel at their most comfortable on a Walmart hanger. And don’t come expecting much in the way of sets (Beowulf Boritt). There’s a lot of wood and a set of chairs that spend the interval-free 100 minutes getting restlessly reconfigured as plane interiors, churches, local bars etc. There’s a whiff of student productions sometimes. Christopher Ashley‘s production is exhaustingly busy and that’s even before the revolve belatedly wakes up.

This is very much an impressive and hard-grafting ensemble so difficult to single anyone out for special mention but this didn’t stop the Olivier Awards choosing the excellent Rachel Tucker for a supporting nomination probably because she gets a showy and very much of-the-moment empowerment song celebrating her struggle to become a lady pilot.

And if the subject matter still makes you want to give it a wide berth we can report that it is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny although this is occasionally offset by some clunkily heavy-handed gallery crowd-pleasers (the Titanic jokes anyone?).

But the major and inexcusable problem was the sound balance which – especially in the ensemble numbers – rendered chunks of the show unintelligible especially in the first half hour or so. That’s a large chunk out of the running time. And it wasn’t just Phil reaching for an ear trumpet, most of his entourage struggled too. The folksy Celtic score is is not unlikeable, it’s just rather samey and unmemorable. There’s only so much diddly diddly di and foot-stomping some of us can handle. It’s strange how musicals without catchy scores are so lauded these days (cf Fun Home).

Word is that one should bring a box of tissues, but the saddest story line is dispatched so perfunctorily that Phil was left completely unmoved (and this from a person who still sobs at Mary Poppins).

Phil liked the show but didn’t love it as he’d expected to. Of course it elicited an instant standing ovation at the end so what does Phil know? That we’ve picked up some very bad habits from across the Atlantic. That’s what.

Footnote
Something we do love is the case of the disappearing interval. This is our fourth interval-free show in a row (including Gently Down the Stream at the Park which we haven’t written about). Our next theatre is the National’s interval-free Follies for a third time. Hurrah.

Rating

 

 

 

Minority report

Andrew writes: I don’t know what all this ‘we’ business is. I loved it and came away feeling that maybe there are pockets of good still left in the world after all. Heartwarming. The music worked well. Five stars.

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4 Responses to “Review – Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre”


  1. My biggest worry about seeing this was how Celtic the score was going to be – but I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t find it overpowering. No problems with the sound quality either while sitting row C in the gods.

  2. Dennis Thorne Says:

    I was worried how it would work with a UK audience and spent the whole show laughing crying and applauding and the incredible sight of the simultaneous standing ovation from the audience shows I wasnt the only one who was deeply moved …. easiest five stars I have ever given …. deserves every Olivier nomination and more

  3. Sal Says:

    A charming review as always, especially how a musical about Canadian niceness inspired a little spat between the eminent Whingers, as always the Kellyann and George Conway of theatre complainers –

  4. Taljaard Says:

    Possibly the best new musical of the decade. Totally loved it.


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