COME FROM AWAY

★★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.   at _BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until 1st JUN.

May 22, 2024

images © Mark Senior.

Art from adversity is a fairly commonplace mantra within the creative industries. Entertainment from tragedy, on the other hand, is an altogether thornier affair. Beset with potential pitfalls of insensitivity, not to mention tonal napalm, the thought of going anywhere near the likes of September 11th for, of all things, a musical, seems a recipe for potential disaster.

For certain, there’s been no paucity of films, event series and even theatre that oscillate around that fateful, world-changing day. These have been direct – from the likes of Paul Greengrass’ gripping United 93, which dramatises the heroic last stand of passengers on the titular airline, or Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, which did similarly for the firefighters at ground zero – through to those merely informed by or adjacent to the tragedy, such as Anne Nelson’s The Guys or Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

With Come From Away, Irene Sankoff and David Hein ensconce themselves firmly within the latter category – shining a light on an incredible true story of collective kindness and selflessness during those fateful, tragedy-tainted days. Away tells the story of Gander, a remote Newfoundland town, once an essential transatlantic flightpath stop (before the advent of the jet engine), now a relatively self-contained community on an island – itself colloquially know as ‘The Rock’ – of fewer than ten thousand residents. A town where everyone knows everyone’s name, colourfully depicted with an early visit to the natural hub of all happenings – Tim Hortons.

Over the course of an immaculately-paced single act, Sankoff and Hein depict the extraordinary resolve and generosity of this small community, who were forced to take in thousands of passengers who flights were unexpectedly grounded after the planes hit the towers in New York.

Barely a second is wasted, and an astonishing company switch outfits and characters on a dime, with most on multi-role duty as both kindly Gander citizens and worry-struck passengers alike. Christopher Ashley’s direction is purposeful yet fluid throughout, ratcheting up the initial tension and horror of what is happening, whilst always threading through an undercurrent of heartwarming reassurance, and the indefatigable Gander spirit. Practically every other scene strikes the audience with an unanticipated dilemma of the crisis – where will all these people sleep? What happens to planes that sit still on asphalt for too long? Why can’t you just jump out of a landed plane when you aren’t allowed off of it? How do you store food for an unexpected doubling of your population?

“Barely a second is wasted, and an astonishing company switch outfits and characters on a dime…”

Away wheels through challenge, event and potential crisis effortlessly and briskly, and the level of research and care put into its book erupts from every scene. So much of Away’s chronicling brims with remarkable, real-life stories of fortitude, human spirit and, yes, tragedy. From the kindly animal hospital manager (Rossie Glossop) who turns out to be the only person to think of the animals locked away, unfed and unattended, within the planes’ holds, the town’s young aspiring reporter (Natasha J Barnes) tirelessly narrating each burgeoning crisis, right down to the opening of doors and homes across the community (“thank you for shopping at Walmart, would you like to come back to my house for a shower?”).

The show cleverly jostles perspective, too, with all manner of ‘I didn’t even think of that!’ moments cropping up with gripping regularity. The isolation, fear and uncertainty of passengers stuck on a grounded plane for over 24 hours in a mostly pre-mobile phone age. The tour-de-force of Sara Poyzer belting the story and pride of her Beverley being the first ever female pilot for American Airlines, before segueing into the numbness and shock of seeing her love of aircraft and flight having been used for something so heinous. And in the treatment of Jamal Zulfiqar’s Ali, the show offers glimpses at the intolerance and xenophobia that would come to fester and boil in the aftermath of the attacks.

In doing and saying so much, and ebbing around such calamitous, horrifying days, it would be so easy for Come From Away to be a tonal misfire. And yet, in no small part thanks to Ashley’s vibrant, razor-sharp direction and a truly fantastic cast who tackle the rapid-fire about-turns and transitions with energy to spare, it works exquisitely. For once, it would be completely remiss to single out any of this wonderful team of players, so complete and fantastic are their collective turns. You will be hard pressed to find a harder-working, more charismatic or impressive group of actors performing on a UK stage right now. They more than do their real life counterparts justice.

Whilst considerable chunks of Away do pass with little by way of musical interlude, the internal rhythm of the show means it feels melodic and, yes, musical throughout. And when we do get the big songs and set pieces, they are rhythmic, pounding and stirring affairs. Again, character reigns supreme, from the irrepressible, infectious joy of ‘Screech In’ as the locals initiate their guests in the ways of becoming an ‘islander’, to the stomping, anthemic bravura of ‘Welcome to the Rock’. Like so much of the production, Come From Away’s music is affecting, bold and steeped in identity and character. The talented team of musicians underpinning the show quite rightly get a curtain call celebration all of their own.

Moving, insightful and brimming with truth and perspective, for all of its joy and heart, Come From Away also deserves credit for being such a meticulously crafted piece of stagecraft and musical storytelling. Gorgeously performed, masterfully directed, here is an affecting, uplifting ode to the innate goodness of others, and a reminder of shared humanity and decency even during the darkest of days.

Welcome to the Rock. You’ll be kissing fish, shedding tears and almost certainly not want to be Away for long.

Stirring, truthful and bursting with character and heart, here is a modern marvel of a musical. An ensemble piece in every sense, a stellar company and razor-sharp direction bring this ode to human fortitude and kindness to dazzling, stomping, rhythmic life.

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It’s five soaring, stomping stars for @comefromawayuk from @kylebpedley, as this ‘modern marvel of a musical’ places a pin at @brumhippodrome for the next two weeks! 👩‍✈️💙💛💙

Head on over to the TWE site (link in bio) to read Kyle’s full review of this ‘stirring, truthful’ show which boasts ‘a stellar company and razor-sharp direction’.

And catch ‘Come From Away’ in Birmingham until June 1st, after which it continues its tour across the UK and Ireland!

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It’s four filthy, fishy and fabulous stars for @unfortunatemusical from @kylebpedley, which he calls a ‘deceptively quite clever, and certainly original’ parody, with ‘a fierce and commanding central turn’ from @shawnahamic! 💜🐙🦀⚓️🎭🎶

You can read Kyle’s full review on the TWE site (link in bio), and can catch ‘Unfortuante’ at @brumhippodrome until Saturday, and then at @wolvesgrand in July! 

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It ain’t ogre ‘til the green lady sings… @shrek_uk is at @thealexbham this week, and @kylebpedley calls it ‘funny, goofy and silly’, with ‘a really excellent cast’… 🧅🫏🧚🐉🏰🎭🎶

Head over to the TWE site (link in bio) to read Kyle’s review in full, and catch the swamp at the Alex until Sun 14th April!

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It’s four tropical, sun-kissed stars for Debbie Isitt’s @soluckymusical from @kylebpedley, which runs at @thealexbham this week! ☀️🏖️🕶️🎶 

Head on over to the TWE site (link in bio) for our full review, and catch the show in Birmingham until 6th April before it jets off for the rest of its UK tour! ✈️ 

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The ‘cultural phenomenon’ flies into Brum ‘with the force of a house-hurling hurricane’ and ‘a cast that will blow your silver slippers right off’ - it’s 5 glowing stars for @wickeduk from @kylebpedley! 

Head on over to the TWE site (link in bio) for the full review, and catch ‘Wicked’ at @brumhippodrome until 7th April, before it flies off to other venues on tour!

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It’s 167 shots… sorry, four sizzling stars from @kylebpedley for the UK tour of @bonnieclydeldn, which had its gala press night at @wolvesgrand on Tuesday evening!

Head on over to the TWE site (link in bio) to read Kyle’s full review, and you can catch this ‘sexy, showy’ production on tour at various theatres and venues across the UK now!

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