Moments of levity and uplifting human connection set against a backdrop of tragedy
By Narelle Wood
With the return to live theatre also comes the return of Come From Away. Directed by Christopher Ashley, the production captures all the fear, joy, heart-break, break-ups and friendships of spending time in an unfamiliar place, plagued by the uncertainty and fear watching the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
The story begins in the town of Gander where the townsfolk are going about their business like any other day. There are people chatting in the local diner, a reporter starting her first day for the local TV station, teachers negotiating the first day back at school, and the town’s Mayor negotiating with the local bus drivers who are on strike. But it isn’t any ordinary day; it’s the morning of September 11th 2001. With an unprecedented number of planes being diverted to Gander airport, the townspeople rally together to work out how a small town in Newfoundland, in the far reaches of Canada, can accommodate 7000 guests.
Over the next 100 minutes we’re introduced to a range characters, from the town and the planes, whose stories interweave and overlap. There is a couple whose relationship is becoming increasingly strained, while new relationships and friendships are steadily forging. Some characters are confronted by racial stereotypes, while others are facing language barriers, or trying to reconcile the destruction caused by the terror attacks with the city that they love. Buelah (Emma Powell) jumps to action at the local school organising everything from spaces to sleep, to food, telephones and televisions, as well as offering emotional support to a number of the plane people such as Hannah (Sharriese Hamilton) whose son, a New York fire fighter, is missing. Beverley (Zoe Gertz), Captain of one of the planes, shares her concerned for her passengers, her plane, her colleagues, her family, and the approaching storm that may keep them grounded for even longer than expected.
It’s a true ensemble piece, each character stands out but doesn’t over shadow the others. It’s hard not to adore Bonnie’s (Kellie Rode) passion to care for the animals trapped on the planes or Bob’s (Kolby Kindle) gradual acceptance of Gander and the surrounding towns as a place he can feel safe. Each actor plays multiple characters, seamlessly transiting from one to another, and it is a testament to the quality of the book (by Irene Sankoff and David Hein), direction and performances that no one story is lost along the way. The effortless transformations are complimented by the simple staging (Beowulf Boritt) which quickly transforms from planes to buses, to a diner, bar, school cafeteria, a cargo hold of the plane, and back again.
It’s really hard to fathom how a story, set against so much tragedy, can capture the fear, sadness and terror of September 11th, whilst finding moments of levity and uplifting human connection. But Come From Away does exactly that, helped along in no small way by a powerful and gutsy soundtrack (music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, musical direction by Luke Hunter).
Come From Away made me both laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. It is quite possibly one of the best shows of all time, and it’s just as good the second and third time as it was the first.
Come From Away is on now until 21st March at the Comedy Theatre. Tickets for the Melbourne performance are available via the link below.