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Sarah Crown
Theatre Correspondent
12:00 AM 10th July 2024
arts

Come From Away

 
Photo Credit: Craig Sugden
Photo Credit: Craig Sugden
You may think that September 11th or 9/11 is an unlikely subject to be made into a musical but that is exactly what Christopher Ashley alongside writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein have created. Despite the horror of 9/11, the result of their collaboration is an uplifting true story which has won award after award.

September 11th 2001 was the fateful day when terrorists hijacked and then flew two aeroplanes into New York’s Twin Towers, causing a huge loss of life, unimaginable chaos and subsequently sparking military conflict between East and West which is on-going to this day.

Come From Away follows the passengers and airline crews who were in mid- air at the time of the atrocity and who were diverted to the small Newfoundland town of Gander for five days.

There, chaos, fear and confusion reigned supreme amongst the travellers and local townsfolk as each got to know each other, speed dating style, in a matter of days during what can only be described as exceptional circumstances.

Claude Elliott, Gander’s former Mayor, has watched himself portrayed by different actors numerous times. “And each time you feel how useful this good news story is. On 9/11, we saw the worst that could happen, but around 7,000 people in that tragedy saw the best in humanity.”

As the Mayor, it was Claude’s responsibility to work out just how and where to accommodate these unexpected visitors, some of whom could not speak English, and others who had dietary or medical requirements and all who were frightened and anxious.

Bonnie Harris, (Rosie Glossop) who worked in Gander’s animal shelter realised there would be animals in the aeroplane holds and made it her personal mission to care for a menagerie of 19 that included dogs, cats and two bonobos, one of whom was pregnant who were heading for a zoo in Ohio.

A new reporter at the local TV station went to air to appeal to local people to bring bedding, food and toiletries to Gander’s community halls whilst the few hotel rooms were reserved for the air crews reasoning that they should be well rested and able to fly the aeroplanes out of Gander at short notice if required.

Photo Credit: Craig Sugden
Photo Credit: Craig Sugden
The cast were excellent. Sara Poyzer took the part, amongst others, of the charismatic female American Airlines pilot. The passengers included a gay couple terrified that the homophobic Newfoundlanders would ‘find them out’, a world-famous Muslim chef who was treated with suspicion by other passengers once they began to understand the gravity of what had happened, and the poor worried lady who constantly sought telephone reassurance that her firefighter son was safe in New York.

The Gander locals were portrayed as history will remember them – they are salt of the earth type of people who will help anyone without question.

Photo Credit: Craig Sugden
Photo Credit: Craig Sugden
There are positives that have emerged from the dreadful events of 9/11 not least the unexpected subsequent marriage of two of the plane’s passengers. The English oil executive Nick Marson and his now American wife, Diane, both divorced, met and fell in love during their five days in Gander, married the next year and spent their honeymoon in Newfoundland.

The hardworking cast never leave the stage and each play many roles by slipping on a different Jacket / hat to play a particular character. Similarly, they retreat into the chorus as and when required. The live band under the direction of Andrew Corcoran are also on stage, and together with the cast create a fast moving piece of musical theatre.

The story does not shy away from the harsher realities of the circumstances which brought these people together but still manages to be uplifting, promoting an inescapable truth that humans, generally, are instinctively kind to those in need or distress.

The theatre was full to the rafters and the cast received a standing ovation lasting several minutes which is the best endorsement for any production to receive.

Sheffield Lyceum Until 20th July