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MiNDFOOD Reviews: Come From Away

MiNDFOOD Reviews: Come From Away

MiNDFOOD Reviews: Come From Away

On September 11, 2001 after the terrorist attacks that shut down American airspace, some 7,000 passengers in 38 aircraft were diverted away from American airports to safety. This group of passengers – who hail from 100 different countries – were sent to Gander, a small Canadian town on the remote island of Newfoundland.

With a population of only 9,000 (about the size of Byron Bay’s), the town’s inhabitants quickly organised themselves to welcome the thousands of distressed and disorientated passengers who descended on their town, almost doubling the local population. For five days the visitors were fed, cared for and shown heart-warming hospitality by the Newfoundlanders, with whom some of the visitors formed lifelong relationships.

 

Inspired by these events, Canadian husband-and-wife writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the award-winning musical, Come From Away after conducting hundreds of hours of interviews with both the locals and the visitors. The cast of 12 performers each play one Newfoundlander and one visitor concurrently, as the musical portrays how the unexpected event panned out both for the people who landed dazed and confused “wherever we are” and those who looked after them.

Newfoundland only became part of Canada in 1949 and the local accent is a mélange of Scottish, Irish, Welsh, with a touch of American and French Canadian. Swapping continually from this unique, sometimes incomprehensible accent back to the that of the ‘plane person’ each actor is also portraying is no mean feat and the dexterity with which they seamlessly switch is head-spinning but somehow manages to not confuse the audience. 

A simple set with a handful of chairs and a couple of tables effectively conveys multiple locations including a plane, the airport, a school, a bus, a pub … even a local beauty spot. The skill of the performers is such that the audience is transported to not only the physical locations but also the emotional mindset of the characters as they together yet separately navigate their way through an event the scale of which most of us had never experienced before.

Each character in the play is either a real person or based on one – from the town Mayor to the local schoolteacher, to the gay couple from LA worried how they’ll be received in town, and the New Yorkers desperate for news of their families back home. All are portrayed with warmth and plenty of humour, including Londoner Nick and Texan Diane who are thrown together in Gander where sparks unexpectedly fly…  

Despite the events that led to its occurrence, the story of Come from Away restores our faith in humanity as friendships form, cultural differences are (mostly) overcome and the townspeople join forces to provide kindness, generosity and a shoulder to cry on to anyone who needs it. 

The production features a spirited band that is mostly in the wings but joins the cast onstage for a couple of memorable numbers. Made up of traditional Celtic instruments popular in Newfoundland and instruments from around the world, the score is a rollicking toe-tapping one that will stay with you long after the curtain falls…and in my case, make you want to see the show a second time. 

The violent attacks of 9/11 are referred to obliquely and although responsible for the events of this story, they are peripheral. Rather, the spirit of Come From Away is uplifting, heart-warming, infectious and life-affirming and – after the year that was 2020  –  may be just the tonic you need right now.

Come From Away
Capitol Theatre, Sydney
From 3 June, 2021
comefromaway.com.au

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