Come From Away

Liverpool Empire

Cover image for the article named 'Come From Away'

Welcome to the Rock, specifically to the town of Gander in Newfoundland, the easternmost province in Canada. The town is small and only has around 10,000 inhabitants, but there is an international airport; a leftover from the days when flying transatlantic involved refuelling mid-flight.

Come From Away tells the story of how this small town in Canada welcomed 38 planes full of people (approximately 7,000 people)when the United States airspace was closed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For 5 days, the people of Gander provided food, showers, comfort and friendship to the Come From Aways (a term used in Newfoundland to describe people who aren’t from the island) until the flights could leave again.

This is a musical we had heard so much about. For some of our friends, this is their favourite musical and they’ve encouraged us to watch it when in London, but we just haven’t got round to it. Seeing that the show was touring and coming to Liverpool, we knew we wanted to see it. There was just one problem; the only night we could go was the Everton-Liverpool Derby game so we knew we wouldn’t get into town in time. We’d resigned ourselves to having to wait until December to watch the show at The Lowry, but then the stars aligned and the Derby game was moved.

Despite our friends constantly telling us the show is amazing, and that they had kissed the fish (a reference we didn’t understand), we had never listened to any of the soundtrack or watched the recording of the show which is available on Apple TV. We wanted our first experience to be in a theatre, and WOW are we glad that we waited. This show is absolutely phenomenal and has gone straight into our top 5 musicals.

The Cast of Come From Away.
The Cast of Come From Away. - Image Credit: Craig Sugden

Without a doubt, the heart of this production lies within the incredible 12 person cast.

Throughout the show, they take on a wide range of roles and incorporate small costume changes, predominantly on stage, to signify the different characters; a jacket here, a hat there, or a fake moustache or two is used throughout. The real power of the acting though is what leads to the impression that there are upwards of 50 people involved in the cast. Each character has their own demeanour, accent, and even way of walking, so that the audience is never confused about which character and actor is portraying at that moment.

This is a non-stop show, with no interval and both high energy and high emotion. The cast never tired throughout, and each had the unique ability to make you feel as though you were the only one there when watching the highly emotional scenes. This musical is based on real people’s experiences and emotions, so being able to connect with the audience in the way that the cast did feels like a pre-requisite, yet could have been easily over-looked or under-delivered. This was absolutely not the case, and the casting team need to be commended for bringing together such an exceptional cast.

Kirsty Hoiles, Daniel Crowder and Company.
Kirsty Hoiles, Daniel Crowder and Company. - Image Credit: Craig Sugden

There are no huge stage pieces that make up the set of Come From Away. The majority of the time it’s mis-matched chairs and a couple of neon signs. Aside from the subtle “emergency chairs” feel to the staging, the lack of big sets allows you to fully embrace the storytelling. The addition of musicians at the back of the stage, who come down stage during the bar scene (and for a well deserved curtain call), gave the impression we had been transported to watching a seanchaí in the pub rather than watching a musical, and was the perfect addition to the human connection as there was no sets to be barriers.

The music is very clearly Celtic inspired, with what can only be described as toe-tapper songs throughout, but one of the most beautiful musical pieces within this show is ‘Prayer’ which effortlessly combines the different religions of those now resident in Gander through the medium of song. The song is moving, unexpected, and definitely a stand out moment within the production.

Sara Poyzer and and Company.
Sara Poyzer and and Company. - Image Credit: Craig Sugden

Come From Away has faced criticism for being too feel-good, and for almost glossing over the racial and religious discrimination that 9/11 unleashed, but having now watched the show we don’t feel that they are fair criticisms. The cast work hard to ensure the full range of human emotions is portrayed. When the TVs are switched off because the people watching won’t even try and get some sleep, that is very reminiscent of our own experience as 18 year-olds, thousands of miles away. The racial and religious discrimination didn’t feel glossed over, and the treatment of the character Ali throughout felt like the different layers of discrimination were each given a place. Yes, the show could have spent longer on these elements, but that would have lessened their impact. The show gave you enough moments to understand, feel uncomfortable, and most importantly, to want to do better.

That ultimately is the most powerful element of this show, you cannot help but leave feeling inspired and with a renewed hope in humanity. A little bit of kindness goes a long way, and a show like Come From Away is a powerful reminder of that.

The show is on in Liverpool until 23 March, but returns to the North West for an extended run at The Lowry from 3 December to 5 Jan 2025. If you only go to watch one musical this year, this should be the one.

Full details of the tour can be found on the Come From Away website. Tickets for the show in Liverpool are available from the ATG website, whilst tickets for The Lowry are available from their website. Ticket prices vary per venue.

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