Arts & Culture
[Review] Come From Away at Oxford’s New Theatre: A global phenomenon!

By Jessica Durston

What a wonderful experience it is to be invited to the press night of a show you have no information or preconceived notions of, beforehand. All I had to go on was the knowledge that Come From Away had received multiple glowing reviews.

It was refreshing to indulge in this kind of unfamiliar excitement and anticipation this week. 

As usual, the staff at the New Theatre had excelled themselves with the decor of the Piano Bar. There were world map-design balloons, canadian flags, and other decorations bringing the setting of the musical outside the stage.

Come From Away tells the story of the 38 planes and the passengers, that were grounded in Newfoundland, Canada, when the 9/11 atrocities took place in New York City. Over 6,500 people were welcomed and looked after by the townspeople of Gander. Gander, Newfoundland, only had a population of 10,000 at the time! These foreign visitors or ‘come from aways’ spent five days in this remote place, not knowing when they would see their loved ones or return home. 

The show documents the heartwarming tale of how the Gander community took in all these strangers, who were all like fish out of water, and made them feel like honourable Newfoundland cod (cod are a big thing over there - look it up)! The musical looks at how Gander changed the people who stayed there - perhaps for the better. 

Irene Sankoff and David Hein (the partnership behind the book, music and lyrics) have created something really special with Come From Away. The musical’s dialogue is snappy, and whirls you through the crazy true-story narrative. There is a lot of humour injected into the show’s script - a lot of good comic timing and back and forth between cast members, with great pauses for the audience to let out a chuckle. It was like witnessing a well-choreographed dance, and the humour added levity to heavier subject matter.

The show’s themes of kindness, community spirit, acceptance, and multiculturalism are extremely relevant today, despite the fact that the musical is set in 2001. Togetherness is pushed to the forefront, and stereotypes of different cultures and identities are acknowledged, and then broken down or brushed aside. 

Furthermore, the cast are all one unit. I feel in this review I cannot pick stand out performers easily, which can be a rare occurrence within most productions. The players were all key parts of a bigger mechanism - take one away and the whole thing just won’t work. As an audience member you fall in love with all of the characters, their stories, and their little quirks. 

The members of the band also took their place on stage alongside the main cast, within the cover of the set pieces. They were almost in the thick of the action too, creating more of a crowded community feel. 

The cast’s use of physical theatre - in particular the chairography - was very impressive. You could really picture the characters on the plane or bus that they were travelling on, or waiting on.

The storyline and the songs flow impeccably, and it was hard to believe that the actors and musicians were performing solidly for an hour and forty minutes with no interval, and high levels of continuous energy. I believe the momentum had to be maintained in order for them all to carry on so furiously.

There was almost a chaotic feel to the performance to reflect the chaotic nature of the story - and this is not a criticism at all…rather the very opposite. I think it works to the show’s advantage. The majority of people in Gander did work tirelessly for five days and nights after all! The lack of interval also means audience members can be thrown into the action right from the start and remain invested in the plot throughout.

Toni-Leslie James’ casual costume design gave the cast a realistic and unassuming appearance. It felt right for the performance as the actors did not seem overdressed, or appear too glitzy and ‘big-production.’ Anything else would have felt at odds with the homely and welcoming energy that the Newfoundlanders project. This musical is about real people - and this was reflected well. 

The staging was impeccable and the use of levels allowed the and the action going on in each scene) to be accessible at all times. The cast were showcased well throughout. Moreover, the blocking of the plane and bus interiors made palpable the feelings of claustrophobia that the passengers must have been experiencing at the time when they landed in Gander. 

The use of natural wooden set-pieces to represent cabin walls and trees helped to create the rustic, middle-of-nowhere setting of the town of Gander, Newfoundland. Aside from the wooden items just mentioned, props and set pieces are quite sparse because the human players are all that are needed to fill the stage. 

The show is about the power of humanity and compassion - all that’s needed are people to tell the story. Whenever a change of scene or character (all the cast multi-roled) took place, it was obvious with accent switches, clothing item changes, and body language. A very impressive feat!

As many Newfoundlanders are of Irish descent, the soundtrack of the show takes heavy inspiration from traditional Irish folk music. The stomping, lilting rhythms really get into your soul - as does the wonderful message of love and acceptance for your neighbour, wherever they come may be from. The steady beating of the drums was like a repetitive heartbeat, reflecting the monotonous five-day period of waiting that the passengers aboard all 38 planes had to do in Gander.

The cast members all delivered professional vocals during every song - you felt safe in their hands and it was an enjoyable experience to watch them do their thing. There are some very memorable numbers within Come From Away, but a lot of the breaks into songs blend and merge with one another in a very fluid and cohesive way. Hannah’s solo number ‘I Am Here’ is very touching - it was well executed by Bree Smith. Sara Poyzer as Beverley (the first female captain of an American Airlines commercial plane) also commanded the audience’s attention when performing her rousing solo number ‘Me And The Sky.’ She controlled the stage like her character controlled her cockpit.

Additionally, Mark Dugdale (who took on the roles of Kevin T, Garth and more) showcased some beautifully toned and crisp vocals during his solo parts - including in the ‘Prayer’ sequence set in the Gander church. The cast all came together, singing in heavenly harmony. You see different people with different religious backgrounds coming together in a shared time of need, seeking solace and support. 

There’s also a fantastic, raucous folk number entitled ‘Screech In’, taking the audience through all the unorthodox steps you must take to swear yourself in as a Newfoundlander.

This show tells a very important story, in a way that people can really connect with it. 

Moreover, the standing ovation given to the cast and musicians of Come From Away was the most immediate and unwavering I have ever witnessed in the audience of a live show. I feel this is a testament to the talent of everyone involved in bringing the musical to life - on or behind the stage. Trust me, this is not a show you want to miss. 

More information about the UK & Ireland tour of Come From Away can be found online at 

More information about the New Theatre and its upcoming shows can be found online at

  • [Review] Come From Away at Oxford’s New Theatre: A global phenomenon!
  • [Review] Come From Away at Oxford’s New Theatre: A global phenomenon!
  • [Review] Come From Away at Oxford’s New Theatre: A global phenomenon!

    Photo credit - Craig Sugden