Review: ‘Come From Away’ shined through a post-lockdown lens, feeling more relevant than ever

Review: ‘Come From Away’ shined through a post-lockdown lens, feeling more relevant than ever

Image by Jeff Busby
Words by Alexander Crowden

The musical just commenced a new nine-week season.

Many of us spent a lot of 2020 dreaming of going back to live events, be it sport, music, comedy or in this case theatre. However, few of the events that are starting up again could feel as triumphant as Come From Away does from the perspective of a newly-liberated Melburnian.

Having originally opened in July 2019 and halted by COVID-19 in March, this month marks the beginning of a new nine-week season for the acclaimed theatre show. Come From Away tells the tale of 7,000 airline passengers who were unexpectedly diverted to the small town of Gander in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador due to the airspace closure in the United States immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Suddenly the small town nearly doubled in population as locals scrambled to find shelter, food, clothing all the while struggling to come to terms with the events themselves. The passengers must also get their heads around their new surroundings without knowing when they’ll return home.

A cast of just a dozen portray a litany of characters with each actor taking on several roles and being their own chorus. Truly an ensemble production, the cast are tight-knit and impeccably well drilled and despite it being their first show back in nearly a year, this is already a well-oiled machine. About 75 per cent of the musical is song and the spoken word dialogue carries out at a rate of knots – one person forgetting their lines or mistiming their part of a song could throw the whole production off the tracks.

Actors switch between characters, accents and costumes in seconds with ease while a tight band backs the cast, performing the many (mostly) uplifting songs strewn throughout Come From Away. Most of the songs were sung as an ensemble or with alternating lines, however a few actors stood out with their own solo performances.

Of those, Sharriese Hamilton’s ‘I Am Here’ was a highlight. Hamilton plays a fantastic portrayal of Hannah O’Rourke, an Irish passenger whose son is a first responder at the World Trade Center and spends most of the show trying desperately to find out if he’s okay.

While some of Come From Away spotlights the unjust treatment of certain groups immediately after the attacks – case in point: the marginalisation of Middle Eastern people following the tragedy – most of the musical focuses on the undivided friendliness of Gander’s townspeople and their ability to move mountains to help these misplaced strangers. The lasting bonds made between the passengers and townspeople makes for a story that is infectiously uplifting and wholesome.

A feel-good story in its own right, after the chaos of 2020 and with the lingering effects of COVID-19 still present, this musical feels even more relevant now than it did when it made its 2019 Melbourne debut.

Featuring brilliant songs, clever-yet-understated stage and costume craft, top-notch vocals, a cracking band combined with a real-life storyline that is so gosh-darned heart-warming, you couldn’t help but leave the theatre beaming.

On that Wednesday evening in late January, Come From Away transcended its Comedy Theatre setting, and how lucky I feel to have witnessed it.

Come From Away is on until mid-March at the Comedy Theatre. Grab tickets here.