Review Come From Away, Wales Millennium Centre by Bethan England

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Come From Away has been called one of the ‘best new musicals of the century,’ which is high praise indeed when you consider the sheer choice and variation of shows and, in particular, musicals, when you consider attending the theatre. This assessment, however, is truly well deserved, proven by the instantaneous standing ovation at the end of the opening night of Come From Away at the Millennium Centre.

The plot focuses on the true-life story of the town of Gander. Once the biggest airport in the world, Gander International was at the forefront of aviation, perfectly placed for planes to land to refuel during their transatlantic flights. Since those glory days, however, there’s talk of tearing down the airport as planes can now make their journeys on a single tank. However, the peaceful lives of the residents of Gander are shattered as 38 planes were diverted there due to the airspace being closed after the catastrophic terrorist attack in America on 9/11.

Starting with the staging; there is no safety curtain as we take our seats; the stage is set simply with chairs and tables. The band is on stage alongside the action. The back wall is simple, but projections create all the atmosphere we need; starting with clouds and transitioning as the show progresses to show us various locations and occurrences, such as small lights as the residents gaze up at the numerous planes landing. The simple set means that nothing detracts from the stories being told here. The chairs are moved around to create Tim Hortons where the Mayor sips a Pepsi and ‘gets the lay of the land,’ the rows in the planes or the seats in the school buses that escort the fearful temporary residents of Gander to their impromptu homes on the island. Lighting is incredible, with several moving tableaus perfectly highlighted by the creative placement and tones.

The music is uplifting, joyous and the hooks are infectious. The musicians being on stage and sometimes involved in the action is the perfect way to ensure that the music is well and truly integral to the piece. The pace is non-stop, the harmonies are perfectly placed, the voices are excellent and so heartfelt. Particular favourites of mine were ‘Welcome to the Rock’ which is a rousing opener, ‘Prayer’ which shows the diversity of the passengers on those flights so perfectly, ‘Me and the Sky’ which is Beverley Bass’ homage to her journey to becoming a pilot, and the hilarious ‘Screech In.’

The cast was wonderful and it’s hard to pick out one member as this is such an ensemble piece where every actor is equally as important. However, special mention must be made to Kirsty Malpass, the resident co-director and choreographer, who stepped in to play ‘Bonnie and Others.’ It really shows the importance of understudies, covers, and swings and epitomises that the ‘show must go on.’ Every cast member play multiple parts; the residents of Gander initially, then numerous, various passengers and the pilots and crew on those 38 flights. Each transition is seamless. You are never in doubt of which character is speaking; the change in accents is impressive, as is the Brechtian technique of adding a hat, jacket, or similar, to show that we are now seeing the story of a new character.

What Come From Away does so well is these stories. You feel for every single person delivering their tales. The real characters are presented with sensitivity and truth. The fictional ones too, show what those people went through being so far from home, maybe alone, scared, wondering about their loved ones and appalled at the visions unfolding before them on television screens. It does not shy from showing us the difficult things; the fear and suspicion of the Muslim Egyptian passenger, the difficulty with understanding one another’s language and culture, the overcoming of those issues and coming together because, when it comes down to it, we all ‘come from away’ and all deserve to feel loved, for our stories to be heard, for someone to hold our hands when we feel isolated.

So, is Come From Away truly one of the ‘best new musicals of the century’? It more than earns this accolade, in every note, every story portrayed, the way that we can still learn from it, even over 20 years after that terrorist attack. If anything, we need this musical more than ever, as it shows us that even as we stand ‘on the edge of a moment,’ perhaps in need or feeling alone, there is someone ready to make you feel like you belong, whether that is one person, or a whole community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get The Chance has a firm but friendly comments policy.