Sometimes when you see a show you can be blinded by an extreme of feeling about it; you may love or hate it, and end up unable to predict what your fellow critics’ verdict will be. Other times you can be more sure – certain aspects of a show can be judged more objectively (terrible dialogue is terrible dialogue), and also a unified audience reaction can give you a pointer.
Tonight I revisited the astounding (and now Olivier Award-winning) Come From Away, and it reminded me of three outliers of the otherwise glimmering collection of reviews it received upon opening in February. Now, it’s not that these critics didn’t appear to like the show that I’m taking issue with – everyone can & will love what they love, and hate what they hate – but the frankly bizarre attempts to justify their 3* reviews.
Patrick Marmion for the Daily Fail chose the phrase “relentlessly cheerful” at one point – a combination of words that forms about as backhanded a compliment as you can get. The flippant comparison with spoof disaster film Airplane! borders on distasteful, given that this show is based on real & recent events, as opposed to the fictional world of Leslie Nielsen.
Michael Billington‘s write-up in the Guardian was also keen on the r-word, mentioning a “relentless celebration of civic virtue”, and the sub-heading opting for “relentless niceness” (though whether that’s an editorial contribution or all Billington’s, I don’t know). You can’t really interpret this word in any other way than to mean something derogatory, which seems a tad unnecessary. I see his point about the lack of complexity and conflict, though it would be quite exhausting if every show you watched adhered to this; sometimes the championing of kindness is all you need.
Paul Taylor takes a similar route in the Independent: “drama thrives on conflict and this has very little of that”. Perhaps (shock, horror) that’s because everyone really was united? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, given Canadians’ well-known aptitude for hospitality – plus it was an extreme situation, and one more likely to bring out the empathy in people.
Anyway, I can feel myself veering into dangerous territory; I’m not here to recruit or convert people, or say that your opinion doesn’t matter, it’s just interesting to see what some people will use to justify their statements. And if you find yourself balking at displays of kindness then that perhaps says more than enough!
What I’d also like to mention is the transformative potential of theatre. A brilliant show has the power to drastically alter your mood, change the way you see the world, or even cure ills. Nothing major, obviously, but I frequently find that a terrible headache gets snatched away by a good show – I don’t know if it’s a side effect of the extra endorphins floating around or just plain voodoo, but I could swear by it. Sunny Afternoon cured me many a time, and only last night that 5* production of Thrill Me also did the trick; tonight’s visit to the Rock has reinforced whatever it was that practically gave me a personality transplant (along with the headache cure), and will hopefully keep me going for a while. I’m more convinced than ever that quality theatre should be made available on the NHS…
Now, I’m not one for twee, saccharine niceness, but the simple, honest goodness that runs through Come From Away is something that I can get on board with. We need examples of the power of unity more than ever – and a reminder that people sometimes aren’t so bad.
Come From Away runs at the Phoenix Theatre until 14 September 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.