Come from Away at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff – review

Cardiff theatre
Come From Away Wales Millennium Centre

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Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with complimentary tickets to Come From Away for the purpose of review

If ever a musical is going to remind you that the majority of people are inherently good, it’s Come From Away, which opened at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff last night as part of its first UK tour.

The multi award-winning stage show tells the true story of the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, which saw 38 aeroplanes and 7,000 passengers and crew from all over the world grounded there for five days in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and the community which rallied around these ‘come from aways’, welcoming them into their town and hearts.

Premiering on Broadway in 2017, before opening in the West End in 2019, we first saw the musical as a family in London back in 2021. I’d been obsessing over the soundtrack for quite a while – the first time I listened, it made me cry – and this felt like the perfect show to watch as the world slowly began to get back to normal after the Covid pandemic and lockdowns. It was a reminder that in the face of extreme tragedy and adversity, there are always people making a difference. As that famous quote of Fred Rogers says, ‘Look for the helpers’.”

Come From Away is a real ensemble piece, with the cast of 12 each playing more than one character. All are based on real people and real stories, as told to the show’s creators Irene Sankof and David Hein, from the Gander locals – the mayor, the news reporter on her first day in the job, the vet, the striking bus drivers, and the staff at the school – to the people on the planes – the mother waiting for news on her firefighter son, the awkward first stages of romance between two passengers, the first female American Airlines captain. With the quick pull on of a hat or a jacket and a change their mannerisms and accent, suddenly they are someone new, and credit to the cast, it somehow never gets confusing.

Come From Away Wales Millennium Centre
Come From Away Wales Millennium Centre
Come From Away Wales Millennium Centre

The stage is minimal – the storytelling is so strong there’s no need for fancy props or sets; just wooden chairs moved around the stage to depict buses, aeroplanes, the local pub and more. The Gaelic-pop soundtrack is played on stage by a wonderfully energetic live band, including traditional instruments such as the fiddle, accordion and ugly stick, with the band becoming part of the story on various occasions, and giving us an incredibly rousing finale.

It’s a hugely emotional production, as the passengers desperately try to contact loved ones at home and stare in disbelief at the TV screens as they emerge from up to 28 hours on their planes unaware of what has happened. And it also doesn’t shy away from deeper issues such as the gay couple scared to be ‘out’ in a small rural town and the Islamophobia shown towards a Muslim passenger

It’s also one of most heartwarming shows you could watch, as the people of Gander set up makeshift dorms in the schools and community centres, invite the passengers into their homes to shower and to rest, clear the supermarket shelves for toiletries, donate fresh clothing, and provide friendship and support. And it’s wonderfully funny at time too, with plenty of laugh out loud moments too.

Come From Away Wales Millennium Centre
Come From Away Wales Millennium Centre

At just 1 hour and 50 minutes in length, and with no interval, it’s amazing how much story and emotion it packs in. With an age guidance is 10+ it’s a good one for families of older children looking for an Easter holiday treat. Although my husband accompanied me to last night’s press performance, all three of my children saw it with us in London (they were 12, 10 and 8 at the time) and if they hadn’t been staying with grandparents, they definitely would have argued over which one was going to come along to the press night as it’s a show that has really stayed with them.

Last night’s performance ended with an incredible emphatic standing ovation, the entire audience was up on their feet instantly, the clapping went on for ages, and the conversation on the stairs on the way out was full of praise for what we’d just witnessed. And rightly so. Come From Away is an incredibly powerful piece of musical theatre, an important story told beautifully by an outstanding cast. If you get the chance, go!

Come From Away is at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 6 April. Still some availability for tickets, priced from £15. Book online here.

Production photos credit Craig Sugden

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