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Posts Tagged ‘David Hein’

I was in Newfoundland in 2016. It’s a lovely place and, surprisingly, just over four hours from London by air. In the days of refuelling on transatlantic flights, its airport at Gander was well used; not much since, though it still has a huge capacity. The town isn’t a Newfoundland highlight. I drove through it twice. Without stopping. If I’d known its people had shown so much humanity in a world wrought with anger and hate on 9/11, I’d have probably stopped to pay my own tribute. But I didn’t.

It became the destination for 38 planes containing 7000 passengers, diverted after the attacks. At first they stayed aboard, expecting to move on to their original destinations shortly. When it became clear this was more than a short stop, they disembarked. The population of Gander, not much more than the total of stranded passengers, mobilised to provide shelter, food, clothing, phones, eventually inviting them into their homes, virtually adopting them. Relationships developed, but five days later they were waving goodbye.

It was the 10th anniversary, when residents and passengers were reunited, that gave the writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein the idea to tell their story. They interviewed both locals and the once stranded and created this extraordinary musical telling some of their stories. You might wonder why the musical style seems Irish folk, think Once, but I remember hearing this sound on my travels. Many Newfoundlanders are of Irish descent, the province only joined Canada after the second world war, and it is unlike any other part of Canada. What’s surprising is how earnest the show isn’t, and how funny it is. Though it’s often moving, I didn’t find it too sentimental; in fact I would say its one of the most exhilarating, uplifting shows I’ve seen.

A very simple staging, with some trees representing the island and chairs to create every location, leave the twelve actors to tell the stories of the many more they play unencumbered. The music hardly stops and there’s great pace and energy to Christopher Ashley and Kelly Devine’s staging. It’s breathless, grabbing you quickly and never letting go for 100 unbroken minutes. It struck me that now was a good time to see it here, to remind us that there is human kindness in this divided, angry world.

A joyful experience born of tragic events. Very much a musical for our times.

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