This show has been an absolute smash in North America and I can see why. It has a certain saccharine sweetness that, for me, gets in the way of a more gripping retelling of a charming and heartfelt story.
Maybe there is no hiding from the truth. It’s just nice.
Also 9/11 happened there and this is one of the few shows that doesn’t mourn it but finds a nugget to celebrate the human positives that emerged.
The actions concern those of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, (The Rock) home of the biggest airport in the world that no-one ever uses anymore (since jet planes’ fuel tanks got bigger the planes don’t have to stop there for transatlantic refuelling – for the record).
The residents of Gander’s is a modern day ‘evacuees’ act of human kindness, in that they took the 7,000 stranded passengers, strangers, of 38 planes, that couldn’t land in New York, on 11 September 2001, into their community and then to their homes.
But it’s all a bit hokey for me. The relentless 180bpm Oirish/Newfie folk music gradually starts to do your head in as its one tune relentlessly ploughs a furrow towards your amigdila but in my case bypassed it and hit the cranial nerve instead.
It’s storytelling on steroids. $ for $ you get more words here than you will anywhere else in the West End. But it feels too crammed in – too worthy perhaps. just too much. There’s absolutely no room made to stop and take stock. No light and shade (or very little anyway).
Sure, it has its moments and some of the subplots are interesting (real). For me the most successful concerns a mother who’s fireman son is working on the twin towers and she is beside herself with worry. It leads to one of the few really poignant moments in this marathon jig.
The showstopper numbers; the opener ‘Welcome to the Rock’ and ’38 planes’ are certainly enthusiastic and well received and the finale has significant gusto and was met with the audience leaping to its feet almost as one.
But, I’m sorry, it missed the spot for me, almost completely, and I found myself sneaking looks at my watch despite its 90 minute run time.
One last thing. The seating in The Phoenix Theatre was clearly designed for Victorians at a time when people were six inches shorter than today. Horrendously uncomfortable.