FeaturedMusicalReviewSouth West

Come From Away – Theatre Royal Plymouth

Reviewer: Kelyn Luther

Book, Music and Lyrics: Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Director: Christopher Ashley

Come From Away tells the true story of how over 6500 people were diverted to Gander, a small town in Newfoundland, after 9/11 and how the town welcomed the strangers immediately and unquestioningly (apart from one- more on that later). The musical runs for 1 hour 40 minutes with no interval yet it didn’t drag and although the strangers (or ‘plane people’ as they are referred to in the musical) are only in the town for 5 days, we feel that they have become part of a community..

Irene Sankoff and David Hein, both responsible for book, music and lyrics do an excellent job of distilling a lot of individual stories and memories into a cohesive structure, whilst also conveying the chaos and uncertainty of the situation. The folk-style music runs seamlessly with the book; mostly it underscores the dialogue so whilst there are some more standard musical theatre numbers (the opener, ‘Welcome to The Rock’ is the most memorable and encapsulates the theme of the musical), the music sets the mood of a small community and helps keeps the pace moving in a dialogue-heavy show with a large amount of characters.

It is a plain set- just chairs on a stage, which can often look like a cliché but is very effective as the locations switch between the plane and the town very fast. The actors are also called to flick between roles very quickly; Jamal Zulfiqar, who plays Ali and one half of a gay couple (both called Kevin) does this so effectively that you don’t immediately realise.

The one element that the show doesn’t explore in much depth is the characters who don’t speak English and how they were welcomed; there is a touching moment where a member of staff is able to use the Bible to communicate with a passenger who doesn’t speak English but we don’t fully get the sense that these are people from all over the world. The passengers whose stories the show focuses from are all American, apart from Nick, who is British, and Ali, who is Middle Eastern and therefore treated with reluctance and suspicion by fellow passengers and townspeople. The inclusion of Ali is an important acknowledgement that not everyone was immediately welcomed with open arms and it stops the show from feeling saccharine.

Surprisingly considering the reason why the passengers are stranded, the show balances the sobering tragedy of 9/11 with the welcome kindness of the community and is ultimately an uplifting and heartwarming musical.

Runs until 13 April and continues on Tour

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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