Into the world of ‘Come From Away’ with Perth’s own Doug Hansell

Flying into Perth next month is the Tony and Olivier Award winning musical Come From Away, which tells the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers from more than 90 countries whose planes were diverted during 9/11 and the small town in Newfoundland, Canada that welcomed them all. Acclaimed for its colourful and spirited cast of characters, the play is showing at Crown Theatre from Saturday, May 6 with tickets on sale now. MELISSA MANN chatted with actor and returning WAAPA graduate Doug Hansell to find out the story behind the play, and his first hand experience in getting to know the real character he is portraying.

Tell us about your character Kevin T?

All the actors play multiple characters, but businessman Kevin T is my key role, who was on a flight from Paris to LA with his partner Kevin J when they got stranded together in Gander. It ended up being a life changing moment for Kevin, but remember back to the world 20 years ago. For gay men and men of colour to arrive in a small rural town was a source of trepidation for them – how would they be treated?

The Come From Away creators, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, did immense amounts of research and interviews with Ganderites and passengers to gather authentic stories. Were you able to access any research for Kevin T?

Yes, in fact I was able to meet the actual Kevin T! From his Gander experience Kevin decided to live each moment to the full, and his life shifted directions. He has written a book about his experience, started a charity, and has TED Talks and other online content, so there was plenty to draw on.

I have friends in Melbourne that have returned repeatedly to see Come From Away multiple times. What do you think inspires the audience to return again and again?

Come from Away rolls along like a plane ride. I think people return to see all the intricacies, the details, of each story, because you are swept along the first time. There is no interval. It is a journey you can’t get off.

Come From Away is very different to the recent shows at Crown. What should audiences expect?

It’s not a spectacle show. It is not flashy or has huge sets. Its currency is that it is normal people. In Melbourne I had a friend that saw Harry Potter [and the Cursed Child] in the afternoon matinee, and then Come From Away in the evening, and said they were both 10/10 but complete opposite ends of the theatrical spectrum.

Tell us about the music?

It is not a traditional musical theatre score. It has Irish, rock and folk vibes. The other thing that distinguishes Come From Away is that it is an acting-first musical. The focus is on the story. The music is only there in service of the story. I call it a musical for people who don’t love musicals (you can hear the soundtrack on Spotify here.)

Why does bringing the show to Perth have special meaning for you?

For cast and audience alike, Come From Away takes you back to where you were during 9/11, and for me I vividly remember my student flat in Mt Lawley, watching the small TV precariously balanced on a milk crate, and thinking  this was the start of world war three. It’s also my first return to WA since graduating from WAAPA 20 years ago, so I am looking forward to seeing how it has changed, visiting some old stomping grounds, and catching up with university friends.