Sunday, 1 December 2019

Come from Away, New Theatricals, Junkyard Dog Productions, Rodney Rigby et al, Comedy Theatre, Melbourne

In the world of hypertouring internationally successful broadway musicals, it's rare for something that feels personal, individual and yet at the same time humans-scale and heartfelt to get attention. But thank goodness for something like this - in many ways "Come From Away" feels like the biggest-scale-ever-community theatre project, with a cast of twelve playing a vast array of characters caught up in the town of Gander, Newfoundland as, on September 11th 2001, it suddenly becomes the destination for 6,579 passengers unable to land in the United States after the plane hijackings and subsequent destruction. There's a strong history of verbatim theatre operating this way, with a small cast jumping in and out of character, switching between dialogue and direct narrative as they summarise a large incident with personal stories, and when it's done well (and it's done excellently here) it reaches out and grabs you immediately. The script and music by Irene Sankoff and David Hein skillfully scratches in dozens of different stories, tying them together and allowing them not to be a homogeneous mass of simple uplift (two of the stories, perhaps, stick with me best because they leave loose ends, of the unresolved tensions of those days and of how, while a community can come together to create something warm, it's never quite perfect and always that little bit of human flaws that remain).

Christopher Ashley's direction (alongside musical stager Kelly Devine) makes this staging something constantly flowing - on a simple staging with chairs and tables, he ensures we're constantly focussed on the characters, on the stories, on the connections and on the world of these people. We're drawn in from the first five minutes and we're not let go again for another 95. It's an extrordinary achivement by cast, crew and production team, and I'm deeply grateful the Australian production had enough extensions for me to finally get to see it in Melbourne, and hope as many as possible get a chance to catch it before it goes.

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