REVIEW | Come From Away


Kat Harrison, Manon Gunderson Briggs, Zoe Gertz, Natalie O’Donnell, Emma Powell, Sarah Nairne – photo credit Jeff Busby

A Celebration of the Power of Community

Comedy Theatre

Reviewed by Brendan Daynes

Returning to Melbourne for its final return season, Come From Away is a celebration of the power of community that is guaranteed to make an impression on anyone!

Zoe Gertz & Manon Gunderson-Briggs – photo credit Jeff Busby

Imagine a performance that is based on one of the most horrific worldwide events in history, September 11 2001. These events have been depicted, discussed and rehashed time and time again since that tragic day over 20 years ago and more often than not portray the loss, grief and pain caused. Come From Away truthfully depicts these emotions but is different to other 9/11 stories because it depicts an overwhelming story of kindness, the power of giving, and how we come together and support one another in times of need.

On the small island of Newfoundland, affectionately referred to as “The Rock”, there is a small town called Gander, population 9651. This town, although small, has a famous International Airport that was once an important refuelling stop for all transatlantic aircraft but now is only used as an emergency landing point for aircraft facing on board medical or security issues. On that fateful day when American airspace was closed for the first time in history, 38 aircraft, carrying 6597 passengers from 100 countries, were diverted and instructed to land at Gander. The “plane people”, as they became known, were forced to sit in their aircraft on the tarmac for up to 15 hours, with no knowledge of the horror that the rest of the world was seeing on news channels worldwide. While the passengers were trapped on the planes, the “Newfies” got to work preparing every school, gym, community hall, church and even some of their homes as emergency accomodation for the passengers. They cooked mountains of casseroles and sandwiches and even turned the town’s ice skating rink into the world’s largest fridge to store the large amounts of food needed to feed their unexpected visitors! As the tired, smelly and bewildered passengers emerged and learned of the tragedy the community of Gander stepped up, taking them in with open arms, providing every comfort they needed without expecting a single thing in return.

This beautiful showcase of compassion and kindness is skilfully depicted by an amazingly talented cast under the direction of Christopher Ashley. Using a different format to most modern musicals, there is no lead roles. The entire cast are all members of a chorus – a group of ordinary people commenting on events – each playing various roles switching seamlessly between accents and characters on stage right in front of the audiences eyes. Each character portrayed is based on, and in most cases share the name of, actual Gander residents and stranded travellers which allows the audience to connect and really feel and this showcases the absolute talent of the entire cast.

The creative team have done an exceptional job with a vey simple set of tree trunks designed by Beowulf Boritt, which hide the seven piece on stage band. The creative lighting design of Howell Binkley, cleverly shifts the mood and location without moving a single set piece. This is further enhanced by the simple and effective costume design of Toni-Leslie Jones, cleverly using the adding or removing of garments to indicate a change in character.

Joseph Naim, Natalie O’Donnell, Sarah Nairne & Kaya Byrne – photo credit Jeff Busby

What is really the standout is the choreography or what appears to be “chair-ography” by Kelly Devine. The cast seamlessly move the chairs around the stage, in various formations, sometimes putting them in rows to depict the interior of a plane, and at other times putting them in a line and using them as a lookout or simply scattering them to represent the interior of a local bar. The chair-orgraphy in combination with the clever and skilful use of a more pedestrian style of movement performed in strong unison help create the community feel and is certainly one of the reasons the show has such impact.

The power in this story is the fact that it is real. Cleverly, Canadian husband and wife duo, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who are responsible for the Book, Music and Lyrics, have created a work that doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of the event but is different from most as it is a 9/11 story where no-one on stage dies or witnesses the buildings collapse first hand. The music and lyrics tell the stories of the passengers and the locals who, like the rest of the world, were changed forever by the events of 9/11, but showcase the uplifting story of what happened in Gander.

Although the production stirs powerful memories of 9/11, Come From Away is a truthful and moving portrayal of that grim day that transforms into a joyous and emotional musical. It is 100 minutes of pure entertainment that tugs at the heart strings and serves as a reminder that when things are at their worst, people can be at their best.

Come From Away is playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne for it’s final return season. For more information and tickets visit

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