We all 'come from away'

Chrissie Fitch watches a musical treatment of a lesser-known post-9/11 story.

I’m a Londoner, a half-hour tube ride to the West End. There are few theatre performances that I have seen, though, that I am willing to pay to see again. Come from Away is described as a ‘truly rare, original and brilliantly-conceived and delivered piece of musical theatre', and now trumps my all-time favourite (but fictional) musical, Matilda. I have been recommending this musical to all my friends and family, adding the soundtrack on Spotify, and will be definitely forking out more pennies to go again!

Come from Away tells the remarkable true story of how 38 planes are diverted to the remote island of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada – nicknamed simply ‘the rock’ – following the New York attacks on September 11, 2001. It shows how the residents of Gander come together to support 7000 stranded and scared passengers (now known as the ‘come from aways’) for the week that follows. This includes comforting a mother who realises her son was killed in the aftermath of the attack.        

As a psychology-minded professional, I vaguely remember discussions of the events of 9/11 both at home and in primary school, but Come from Away strips it back to the human experience. The theme of equality came across as the most poignant for me, as seen by the forging of lasting friendships despite clashes in lifestyles, cultures, faiths and other quirks. The song lyrics of Prayer effectively aligned the beliefs of Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. It’s an eye-opening account of a hidden community, which will inspire you to be courageous like the ‘come from aways’ and welcoming like the Newfoundlanders, as they generously gather food and supplies for their guests.                                                                               

There are no main characters – 12 cast members covered all the roles in the story. Each one remains on stage for the majority of the play, creating a group cohesion. When there are solos, they are pivotal in making the story come to life for the audience. In 100 minutes, across a single act with no interval, Come from Away envelopes truth, honesty, love, joy, romance, and even humour, all the while managing to also convey positivity and optimism in the face of such dark tragedy. It helps to heal the wounds that 9/11 created, showing that whilst evil exists, mankind’s capacity for love and kindness can be unwavering and genuine.                                                               

Whilst the Phoenix Theatre (near Tottenham Court Road station) is one of the smaller ones on the West End, the set design and props of Come from Away were simple and effective, and there was innovative use of staging. There are few theatre performances, if any, that are able to sensitively balance both the cathartic expression of emotion, with comical aspects. You’ll be taken through a range of emotions, and leave moved, changed and uplifted. The lyrics of one of the songs, ‘somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of clear blue air, you found your heart; but left a part of you behind’, stayed with me.

Chrissie Fitch is a member of the British Psychological Society, Self-Employed

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