GROWN-UP SHOW REVIEW: Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)

Last weekend we finally got around to seeing Come From Away.  Mummy has been desperate to see it since it was announced that it would bring Rachel Tucker back to the West End.  Given that we have twice followed her across the Atlantic (and fall into the category of crazy people who have slept outside the Apollo Victoria for dayseats) you might wonder why we were not first in line on opening night.  The simple answer to that question is that owning two small humans makes dayseating trickier than it used to be. (At this stage, Mummy would like to kindly request of Rachel Tucker that she remains in the UK for the foreseeable future as transatlantic theatre-going is also logistically problematic these days.)  As regular readers (if there is such a thing) of this blog know, Mummy and Mrs Mummy have taken to seeing grown-up shows separately so that we can keep up our stagey habit without being bankrupted by babysitters.  But we really wanted to see Come From Away together. So when Mummy’s sister announced she would be gracing us with her presence on Easter weekend, we jumped at the opportunity to leave her in charge of the munchkins while we headed out to the Rock.

Mummy is thrilled (and entirely unsurprised) to report that Come From Away was everything she was hoping it would be.  And that it did what the other big winner at the Olivier Awards did not do for her.  As Mummy bemoaned in her (nonetheless 5*) review of Company, it made her think but she wanted it to make her feel. Come From Away most certainly did this. So much so that Mummy spent large parts of the evening on the edge of tears, which were streaming down her face by the finale. The tipping point was when she turned to see Mrs Mummy (notoriously dead inside) with moist eyeballs. Thereafter Mummy was a blubbering mess.

All this talk of tears is probably not selling the show so Mummy thinks it important to note that it is not just 100 minutes of melancholy.   For those unfamiliar with the story, Come From Away is the true tale of thousands of displaced plane passengers diverted to a small town in Canada in the aftermath of 9/11.  And the Newfoundland townspeople who opened their hearts and homes to them.  While the horrors of 11 September 2001 form the backdrop for the story, and the powerful emotions stirred on that day are ever-present, they are not the focus of what is ultimately a very human story about ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.

Fittingly for a story about community, this is a real ensemble piece in which everyone plays multiple roles and there is no clear lead.  There were no fewer than four standbys on when we went, but you wouldn’t know it.  The energetic cast worked tirelessly together and were a shining example of just how moving live theatre can be when everyone performs with passion.  Mummy almost doesn’t want to call out any particular individuals, but did particularly enjoy Jenna Boyd as Beulah and Emma Salvo‘s hilarious Janice.  And not to be in any way predictable, but she couldn’t take the smile off her face when Rachel Tucker belted out Me and the Sky.  She is also now the proud owner of a Me and the Sky t-shirt, which she will sometimes take off due to social conventions which dictate that humans should launder their clothes.  

Mummy thinks that this is the perfect musical. It manages to salvage human stories from a day that is forever remembered for a senseless loss of human life.  For anyone of our generation, 9/11 is probably their first “where were you when…..?” event.  A moment when you heard a news story that you will forever recall and know everyone of your age can do the same.  I remember coming home from school and watching the news coverage in disbelief, like millions of others around the globe.   So there is something incredibly poignant about watching that moment unfold for the plane people in Come From Away when they finally disembark and discover why they have been diverted.

And there are many other moments in the show that will resonate with different people. As an animal lover, Mummy liked the inclusion of the storyline about the many animals who were also on board the diverted planes.  As adoptive parents, we also found particular resonance in a line from a passenger about needing to get home to her newly adopted daughter.  And we very much saw our own experiences of honeymooning in small town Canada in gay couple, Kevin and Kevin.  Warned by our Rockies guidebook about small-minded carnivorous cowboys, we were amazed to discover streets of restaurants with amazing vegetarian food, each with a Pride flag in the window.   In our experience, Canada is every bit as welcoming as it is portrayed in Come From Away. We have also known several gay couples who share a first name!

And this is the real appeal of Come From Away. It’s true.  The characters are composite in some cases, but they are based on the accounts of real people.  And it is almost impossible not to be moved by them.  From the moment a character mentioned leaving voicemails for a missing person, Mummy was taken right back to the 9/11 museum (which we coincidentally visited the day we first saw Rachel Tucker on Broadway).  We spent around 7 emotional hours in that museum, yet Mummy couldn’t tell you anything about what the exhibits look like.  There were certainly physical items there but the power of that place is in how it immortalises the stories of people.  Mummy’s abiding memory of the museum is listening to voicemail after voicemail left on the answerphones of those who can’t tell their own story anymore.   

Come From Away is their story.  It is also a glimpse into the stories of  thousands of others who were affected by that day.  Ultimately, it is a story of human connection and the power of people to create community from tragedy.  And it is told beautifully and sensitively, but humorously at the same time.  The staging is simple yet clever, and Kelly Devine‘s choreography well deserving of its Olivier award.  Fittingly for a story about finding light in dark times, the lighting is incredibly effective.  And the on-stage folk band provides the beating heart of this incredible production which demonstrates the power of music to tell stories and bring people together like nothing else.

In case it was not apparent from the above,  Mummy rather liked Come from Away. She has therefore awarded it a rating of raindrops, whiskers, kettles, mittens and brown-paper packages (aka five out of five of my favourite things.) 


Come From Away is playing at the Phoenix Theatre, currently booking until September 2019.