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  • Writer's pictureJames Wilkinson

REVIEW - Come From Away

Twelve actors and seven musicians sounded like a hundred of each. Perhaps they had the microphones turned up higher than before but if that was the case I can only assume they had also turned up the microphone on applause and energy.

‘Come From Away’ was the first show I had seen in a professional theatre since 2019 and you-know-what which shut down our entire industry for 18 months. It was pretty much like all the shows I’d seen before. A short queue to get into the theatre showing my ticket (and my vaccination status) to the usher. Buying an overly priced bottle of water and a plastic glass of wine and happily shuffling up the stairs and along the velvet red rows to my seat.

Hearing the hubbub of ‘excuse me, excuse me’, ‘sorry I’m just down there’, ‘I’m there in the middle I think with them’ as people awkwardly squeezed past each other felt warm and familiar. It brought a smile to my masked face. The the lights dimmed, the room hushed, the band fired up and the smile felt as though it should burst through the mask and fill the entire theatre. It was live, it was real and it was happening.

Come from away is a 2013 musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, first performed on Broadway in 2017 and on the West End in 2019. It follows the story of a small town in Newfoundland, Canada on the north east tip of North America. The majority of the show is set around the four or five days following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The town in question became a landing area for hundreds of aircraft that could not enter American airspace after the attacks and we follow the human stories of the passengers on board those plans taken in by an overly friendly local community.

The cast was made up of 12 actors who each played several different characters, transitioning between them through the use of very simple changes of items of costume including hats and jackets and changes in accent or stature. This was done in such a well integrated fashion that it was not confusing or contradictory in any way. I was completely sold on an actress being a friendly Canadian matriarch then a loudmouth Scouser and then back again within the same scene. It didn't disrupt my enjoyment one bit.

The band played on stage with a verve and vigour that reminded me of many a night in a Dublin pub and at times were brought into the fictional world as characters themselves. Again, I was not disturbed by the transition between West End session musician and Gander Legion pub player. After the bows the band were brought front and centre while the actors took to the back of the stage where they danced and celebrated the standing ovation that they were being given. The band and the music were rightly highlighted as an equally important star of the show.

This is the part that brought me to tears. 19 people on stage and several more backstage back doing what they do best. The sheer volume of talent that had been kept in the dark for the last two years trough no fault of their own and myself and 1200 other people all experiencing their talent in a show and moment that was unique to us.

While the source material is about as heavy as you can get the show is so full of hope, so full of joy and perfectly poignant in reference to the tragedy and the fear that is so memorable to this day. It is packed to the brim with talent and toe-tapping show tunes and most importantly, much like the industry - it is live and alive!


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