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Review: Come From Away at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Credit: Craig Sugden

A stunning opening night performance from the cast of 12 who tell the remarkable true story of 16,000 people impacted by the tragic events of September 11th.

In the small Newfoundland, Canada, town of Gander lies an International airport where nearly 40 flights were diverted after US airspace was closed in the wake of 9/11, stranding 7,000 people. The community of Ganda welcomed these ‘come from aways’ into their community with open arms and hearts.

The simple set and costumes belie the intricacies of the stories being told throughout the 100 minutes run time of Come From Away. This show takes a historical event that we all know and many will have lived through and tips it on its head. The many humorous moments bringing lightness to an otherwise emotional story. The gearshifts from hilarity to heart wrenching keep the audience on the edges of their seats throughout the performance.

The clever writing, combining pacey dialogue intermingled with musical numbers transports you through the uncertain and challenging hours and days following the attacks. As the relationships between the stranded passengers and the townsfolk develop we see tensions, communication challenges and blossoming romance. There were very few pauses for applause throughout the performance but the audience made up for it at the end with every able member of the audience on their feet by the end of the show.

Credit: Craig Sugden

The band were excellent and deserve a special mention. Being partially visible all the way through, just off in the wings, with occasional on stage cameos, their musical talent added to the ambience and emotion of the show. The set design, reminiscent of Hamilton, employs the use of movable chairs and tables to transport you from airline cabin to small-town rescue centre.

No single cast member stood out, they were all spectacular, with accents, musical numbers and dialogue all flawlessly performed. The spectacular Amanda Henderson (BBC’s Casualty, Oliver! at Theatre Royal Drury Lane), playing Beulah & others, works with the quick thinking town mayor played by Nicholas Pound (Cats, Elf)to coordinate the supplies that will be needed to care for the 7,000 new arrivals into Ganda – think beds, toiletries, food and toilet roll. The story is narrated by eager newly appointed local news reporter Janice, played by Natasha J Barnes (Hex, The Witches of Eastwick).

The Come From Away cast Credit: Craig Sugden

The stranded passengers include characters like the first female American Airlines captain, played by Sara Poyzer (Mamma Mia!, Billy Elliot the Musical), the mother of a New York fire fighter played by Bree Smith (Titanic The Musical, The Color Purple) and a gay couple – the two Kevins – played by Jamal Zulfiqar (Welsh National Opera’s Migrations, Wales Millennium Centre’s Tiger Bay) and Mark Dugdale (Come From Away, The Book Thief).

I also loved the character of SPCA Manager Bonnie Harris played on opening night by Kirsty Malpass, usually Rosie Glossop (Kinky Boots: The Musical at the Adelphi Theatre and feature film), who’s persistence ensures care for the number of animals who were being transported by the aircraft and were also stranded. The barks and meows from inside the aeroplane hold will tug at the heartstrings of animal lovers everywhere.

Cast members of Come From Away Credit: Craig Sugden

Daniel Crowder (Mamma Mia!, The Mousetrap), Kirsty Hoiles (Mamma Mia!, Spend Spend Spend), Oliver Jacobson (The Book of Mormon, Grease) and Dale Mathurin (Frankenstein, Evita) round off the cast.

Come From Away well deserves its four Olivier Awards, which include Best New Musical in London and the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical on Broadway. Canadian writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein have captured this uplifting story, and bring belly-ache laughs – kiss the fish – alongside raw emotion.

Come From Away cast members. Credit Craig Sugden

The biggest strength of this production is its story-telling – that of unity and the ability to find hope in the most challenging times. It wasn’t a show where you walk out singing the most catchy musical number, but feeling thankful and lifted by the strength of humanity and kindness portrayed throughout the show.

Come From Away is playing at the Wales Millenium Centre 2 – 6 April 2024.