Come From Away: d&b Soundscape debut in London's West End.

© Matthew Murphy

The Broadway sensation Come From Away landed in London’s Phoenix Theatre in February 2019. The heart-warming production focuses on the kindness and fortitude of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland; a small Canadian town that welcomed thirty eight planes full of passengers in the wake of the Federal Aviation Administration closing American airspace on 11 September 2001.

The production also marked the first d&b Soundscape show in London’s West End. An auspicious debut, the sound design provided by Gareth Owen, along with associate sound designer Russell Godwin and production sound engineer Andy Green won Best Sound Design at the 2019 Olivier Awards.

Creating clarity with En-Scene

Using d&b Soundscape, Owen was able to overcome one of the major challenges of a show that features a 12-strong ensemble cast with actors playing multiple characters, often in the same scene: As he explains: “There are so many people delivering so many short lines very quickly that before we had Soundscape, the audience occasionally struggled to work out who is speaking.”

Prior to the London show, Come From Away director Christopher Ashley initially relied on lighting cues and movements from the actor to create the required focus. With the d&b software module En-Scene, up to sixty four sound objects can be placed within a scenario so that what is heard aligns with what is seen.

”After doing the first run with Soundscape, the director said to me ‘This is a revelation. Suddenly I don’t need to worry about lighting or staging or what the cast are doing to know who is speaking. My ear is drawn automatically because of the acoustic element.  I can hear the sound coming from the people.’ He said it was an absolute game-changer,” Owen explains.

Not only did Owen achieve the focus required but using d&b En-Space he was able to ensure that each seat in the architecturally impressive three-level theatre experienced the same acoustic sense of space, whether tucked under a balcony or in the open stalls.

A new way of thinking

© Matthew Murphy

“We’ve now done five productions using Soundscape, more than anybody else from a musical point of view,” adds Owen. “Come From Away is by far the show where Soundscape has made the biggest, most significant fundamental difference. More than just improving the sound of the show, it’s actually added a new creative element that the show didn't have before. It's noticeable to everybody who's involved. Very, very noticeable.”

While on the surface it would appear that Come From Away deals with very weighty subject matter, the production tackles the full range of emotions. Tears of sadness are followed by tears of joy and much, much laughter. It is a human story that absorbs its audience, and that connection is maintained throughout thanks to Owen’s masterful sound design using Soundscape. Effortless listening for the audience, but for Owen using d&b Soundscape is a whole new way of working with sound.

“It's like being at school again. It feels like for the last twenty years we've been doing sound for theatre in fundamentally the same way. And here we are just completely re-thinking what it is we're doing… So often in the professional sound world people do things differently because somebody’s brought out a new piece of technology. I would say nine out of ten pieces of new equipment just end up making life more complicated, without really making the sound that much better. Whereas with Soundscape, yes, everything needs to change. Everything needs a re-think, but the result is something that you can clearly hear. That's exactly the kind of technology that, in my view, is worth investing in.”

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