Tuesday, 19 February 2019

REVIEW: Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre

In the midst of the ‘Casting stars in lead roles’ era, there is nothing more refreshing than seeing a piece of theatre that is jam packed with incredible, hard working actors at the top of their game and telling a beautiful story as a unified company. 

I’m about to make a BIG statement here, but I’m pretty certain that anybody who has witnessed this masterpiece will completely back me up; Come From Away is, by a clear mile, the best piece of theatre to hit the West End for as long as I have been around. Yes; it’s even better than Hamilton. 

‘Award-winning musical Come From Away arrives in the West End following critical acclaim on Broadway. Playing at London’s Phoenix Theatre, Come From Away is the moving musical that brings to life the true stories of the 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that brought them in. With tensions running high, uneasiness transforms into music that soars through the night, and life-long friendships are created. With musical numbers including “Welcome to the Rock”, “Me and the Sky” and “Something’s Missing”, this Drama Desk Award-winning production is created by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, and is directed by Tony Award-winner Christopher Ashley. A thrilling, emotive and uplifting new musical, Come From Away runs at the Phoenix Theatre.’

Unlike most other contemporary musicals, Come From Away doesn’t have a ‘leading cast’ as such. Yes, there are a couple of characters that have slightly more solos than others; but it’s such an ‘ensemble piece’ and this in-itself - credit to the writers - is one of the strongest features of this new musical. 

The lighting design by Howell Binkley and set design from Beowulf Boritt are nothing short of stunning and are key aspects in the delivery of this beautiful story. A true example of the common phrase ‘less is more’, the set mainly consists of chairs. These are used to create an aeroplane, a bus, a coffee shop and a hill amongst many other locations and objects. There is also a revolve used in this particular production. I’m not normally a huge fan of a revolve as I find them to sometimes distract from the story telling and the actors performances but in this production, it is never abused and is only used at necessary moments for focus shifting.

I have to say, all the creative aspects of this show are so seamless and collaborative that it’s hard to pin point who to credit for various different things. From what it seems, Christopher Ashley and the entire creative team have worked so hard and closely together to create a new standard of musical; worthy of countless Olivier awards and many others in the upcoming awards season. 

With this in mind, I would like to say that, as astounding as the designs are, what makes this show so special is that you could take away everything; the lighting, the set, the direction and you would still be left with the same heart and same emotion of the story. The designs compliment, and work to support, exceptional characterisation and acting. That’s the true heart of the show.

Whilst almost the entire cast is completely truthful with their performances and really seamlessly switch between characters, accents, costumes and emotions, notable performances have to go to Jenna Boyd, Rachel Tucker and Clive Carter. Boyd plays ‘Beulah and others’ with complete honesty and drive. Every intention is clear and paired with a voice that soars on those top harmony lines in the finale, she is definitely my favourite actress in the show. Tucker is well known in the musical theatre industry for her unrivalled success as Elphaba in Wicked. However, the role of ‘Beverly/ Annette and others’ really allows the audience to see her moment to moment, beautifully honest acting. Even in the less focal moments of the 100 minute - no interval show, every beat is felt by both her and the lucky audience witnessing story telling at it’s finest. Everybody knows Rachel has a voice that could rival anybody currently in the business, but this show perfectly compliments her smooth tone and perfect technique, even when belting ridiculously high. Carter, with a resumé longer than my entire body, proves yet again just why he is such a successful actor. His changes in characters are so believable, you almost forget it’s the same actor. 

The band deliver the exquisite music by Sankoff & Hein with heart, passion and conviction whilst being visible on stage throughout. Their achievement is evident at the end of the show, when the audience remains stood right up until the end of the playoff and not one person left before the band were offstage. This should be the norm but sadly is unheard of in the current theatre climate.

Come From Away deals with so many touching, serious and hard hitting subjects in such an incredible way and through all this - it’s still absolutely hilarious. If you think you’re going to sit and be depressed about 9/11 for an hour and forty minutes, you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, you will probably cry - I did more than once - but they won’t all be tears of sorrow, they will be tears of laughter, tears of happiness, tears of empathy and you will leave the Phoenix Theatre having being broken and rebuilt at the same time. 

One final note. For all of you actor/singers out there; this is the new show to aspire to. It doesn’t matter if you can’t land that triple pirouette (or even that single). The ability to tell a story the way this cast does is something to aspire to and it’s a gift more powerful than any jeté or Top F will ever be.

Everyone should immediately book tickets and see this groundbreaking new musical while they can. 

Review by Peter Macfarlane 

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Seat: Stalls G19 | Price of Ticket: £99.50

Buy your tickets here! 
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