Come from Away at Wales Millennium Centre

April 3, 2024 by



I was lucky enough to visit New York earlier this year and to visit Ground Zero. This made me realise the impact that 9/11 had on my parents’ generation and I found the museum very moving, especially meeting a survivor of the attack who now works in the museum. However, when I was invited to see “Come From Away” I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would enjoy it. The title sounded a bit weird and I had never heard of the story on which the show is based.

The show is set in the town of Gander in Newfoundland and depicts the way the residents of the town welcomed over 6,5000 strangers into their midst for five days when 38 planes were diverted there after 9/11, doubling the town’s population. If, like me, you were unconvinced that this would be a good story on which to base a musical you couldn’t be more wrong.

The set is sparse and simple, the costumes “boring” everyday clothes with the occasional addition of a hat or a jacket to depict different characters, and the cast look more like “normal people” than any other cast I’ve ever seen. And yet this musical transcends the ordinary and the everyday to become something truly special – I have never seen an audience leap to its feet so quickly for a standing ovation or shout its praise so loudly at the final curtain.

The cast of twelve is on the stage throughout, variously depicting the Gander natives and the stranded passengers. They slip between accents and outfits easily and it is hard to identify a stand out performer – only because they were all utterly brilliant. As quickly as the accents changed so too did the mood of the show – although the overwhelming mood was of positivity and hope, reflecting the townsfolk’s kindness and compassion, the horror of the terrorist attacks hung heavy throughout.

Particularly moving was Bree Smith’s depiction of Hannah, a mother whose firefighter son was unaccounted for. The friendship she formed with the Newfoundlander Beulah, who also had a son who was a firefighter albeit in Gander, was as believable as it was touching. When Hannah telephones Beulah towards the end of the show to tell her that her son has been confirmed dead, the sense of tragedy was just as profound as that which I had felt when I visited Ground Zero. I was surprised myself that a night out at a musical could be so moving.

This light touch when dealing with tragedy was evident at other points during the show. It dealt with issues such as small town homophobia, islamophobia and fear of others in a way that was thought-provoking without ever being preachy and on each occasion it quickly returned to redemptive tales of humanity and kindness. There were a couple of scenes that I struggled to understand and one in particular that I though was unnecessary – when we heard at length the story of the pilot Beverley Bass’ struggles with misogyny this seemed superfluous to the story.

One can hardly review a musical without mentioning the music and the band, which spent the performance on the stage – often in the background, occasionally taking centre stage and effectively becoming part of the cast – was enthusiastic and quite brilliant.

So what seemed an unpromising premise for a show ended up being the best thing that I have seen for a very long time. And if you need your faith in humanity restored in such conflicted times, this is the show for you!


Until: April 6

Images: Michael Wharley

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