Reading Time: 3 minutes
Stories arising from the September 11 terrorist attacks are not hard to find. Tales of personal loss, public grief, and diplomatic declarations of war have permeated the screen and stage for the past 20 years. But what about the people aboard the other planes in the air that day? What happened to them, and what can we learn from their experiences?
Come From Away, written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and playing at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, shares the accounts of these individuals. Forced to land in the sparsely populated coastal city of Gander, Newfoundland, their ability to overcome adversity, find comfort in one another, and come together as a community is a heart-warming depiction of the open-mindedness we need in our own time.
It is believed that the right relationships can bring out the best in people, and Come From Away proves this on multiple levels. The 12-person cast spend most of the 100-minute-long musical oscillating between two key demographics: the passengers and airline crew grounded in Gander for god knows how long, and the townsfolk of the city tasked with feeding, housing, and caring for them.
Though it may sound difficult to follow each group’s narratives, the crisp direction of Christopher Ashley, smooth choreography of Kelly Devine, and impressive accent work courtesy Dialect Coach Joel Goldes allow the ensemble to seamlessly transition between the two throughout the performance. Smart and sly costume design, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them changes in accents, and suave musical staging make for a dazzling visual feast that the cast exploits to tell the musical’s story brilliantly. It’s hard not to share in the joy of their celebrations when the demographics come together, best seen in musical numbers Blankets and Bedding, Screech In, and Finale.
Fortunately, this focus on ensemble does not sacrifice the cast’s focus on individual characters. Whether it’s a Middle Eastern passenger’s struggle with racial and religious segregation, the blossoming romance between overworked British businessman Nick (Phillip Lowe) and Texas divorcee Diane (Angela Kennedy), or the animal welfare-focused journey of Gander local Bonnie (Kellie Rode), Come From Away beautifully weaves these delicate singular transformations into its short run time.
One might have wished to have heard more frequently from Hannah (Sharriese Hamilton), desperate mother of a missing firefighter – her subplot was not as regularly visited as those of others. Of particular note nonetheless is the scene-stealing performance of Kolby Kindle as weary African-American Bob – a true highlight of the show.
Of final note is the music, courtesy Musical Supervisor Ian Eisendrath. After a potentially overpowered opening number, the 8-member orchestra– featuring mandolins, Irish flutes, fiddles and even a bodhrán – work wonderfully with the cast to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. After Welcome to the Rock, neither entity overpowers the other, in turn allowing them to bring out the best in each other and push the performance’s musical aspect to its limit. The extended closing number gives the audience the time to appreciate their unique contribution, deserving (and on opening night, earning) nothing less than deafening applause.
Ultimately, Come From Away presents its audience with a depiction of ourselves. Now more than ever, our lived experiences of physical, racial, or sexuality-based isolation have made us apprehensive of each other and the world around us. But, if we can overlook these barriers, open our minds, and persevere through our collective hardship together, the benefit is a kind, strengthened, and revitalised community. With enough cod and Irish whiskey to go around.
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