Review: COME FROM AWAY at Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

A wonderfully uplifting production.

Review: THE SUICIDE at The Studio, Holden Street Theatres

The musical, Come From Away, won Tony and Olivier awards, its writers, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, were Tony and Grammy award nominees, the director, Christopher Ashley, won a Tony for Best Director, and the music was under the control of Olivier Award winner, Kelly Devine.

Following the terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon on 11th September 2001, the US closed all airports, causing civilian planes to divert to other locations. Canadian Transport Minister, David Collenette, began Operation Yellow Ribbon (Opération Ruban Jaune) to handle those diverted aircraft, closing Canadian airports to outgoing flights and allowing diverted flights to land.

Thirty-eight aircraft landed in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, carrying 7,000 passengers, a town with only 10,000 residents, and this 100-minute musical is based on that event, drawn from interviews, documentaries, and letters collected by the Canadian writers, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who travelled there for the tenth-anniversary celebration. Other towns involved were Glenwood, Lewisporte, Appleton, Gambo, and Norris Arm. The title comes from the Newfoundlanders' name for anybody not born there as a 'come from away'.

With only 500 hotel rooms, it was the people of Gander who saved the day, providing food, drink, blankets, and opening community centres, legion halls, and schools as shelters, and taking some people into their homes. Striking school bus drivers went back to work to ferry the passengers. They even turned the ice skating rink into a giant cold room to store food.

This musical is an ensemble piece, with each performer given a main character name, followed by, "and others". They change hats, jackets, and accents repeatedly, the twelve performers creating both the residents of Gander and many of the stranded passengers, some prominent, some fleeting. Because the island was rather isolated until the mid-20th Century, only becoming part of Canada in 1949, the accent is, surprisingly, still much like that of the southeast of Ireland, from where 30-35,000 settlers came in the early 1800s. That Irish influence also appears in the music. We meet everybody from the mayor, Claude Elliot, played by David Silvestri, to a widely varied cross-section of the population. The passengers are equally diverse, including some who don't speak English. This all makes for some fascinating interactions.

There are no principal roles, everybody having equal stage time, sometimes narrating in character, telling their own stories, sometimes relating to other characters and, often, working as an ensemble, a Greek chorus. There are some wonderful solo songs, and some rousing full-cast production numbers, including a show-stopping town dance, with the musicians also taking to the stage. There was also an 'ugly stick', used in the town dance scene, which Australians would know as a 'lagerphone'. That exuberant scene brought enormous applause at the end.

Together, the performers present a thoroughly uplifting production, filled with convincing characterisations and, of course, great music.

There is plenty of humour in the production, to give relief from the initial fear and frustration felt by those confined to their aircraft for many hours, and the sadness and horror they felt when they disembarked and discovered what had happened. There are also many lighter moments, balancing the poignant ones. It is certainly not an evening of doom and gloom; much the reverse. It is filled with hope, care, kindness, and generosity.

There is just a single but effective set, designed by Beowulf Boritt, that, with the aid of Howell Binkley's superb lighting, and many changes of furniture, becomes various locations in Gander, scenes outside one aircraft, inside another aircraft, and more. A revolve is used sparingly and effectively. The entire technical aspect deserves considerable credit.

At the end of the evening, the applause was deafening, as the entire audience leaped to its feet in a standing ovation. During the show the fine, seven-member band is onstage, some at either side, half-hidden behind tree trunks. Then, following the bows, came the bonus, the musicians taking to the stage with a two-row button accordion, fiddle, mandolin, whistle, guitar and, of course, a bodhrán.

Immediately after the performance, a great many people were commenting in glowing terms on their FaceBook pages, and encouraging their followers to buy tickets. I encourage you to do the same, but hurry. Oh, you might want to take some tissues.


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