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"Heartwarming, uplifting and emotional": Come From Away at the Lyceum

A remarkable true story of the Newfoundland people who opened their hearts and homes to air passengers stranded in the aftermath of 9/11, this sung-through musical leaves the audience feeling like they've had their soul hugged.

Four people in fishing hats sit on a stage, with a band playing behind them. Three of them look on excitedly as the fourth kisses a fish held by a man behind them - an initiation ritual for visitors to Gander, as part of the play 'Come From Away'.
Craig Sugden

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, American airspace was closed and all airborne planes were diverted to the nearest airport to land. One such airport was located in Gander, Newfoundland. Previously used as a refuelling point, the small Canadian town suddenly found itself with 38 planes full of scared, confused passengers.

Gander's population of 7,000 doubled within the space of a few hours. What followed is a story of humanity and kindness which is recounted in this uplifting, joyous piece of theatre.

Presented as a sung-through musical, Come From Away celebrates the remarkable true story of the townsfolk who open their hearts and their homes to those stranded, and of the passengers who are welcomed by the town with open arms as they desperately try to contact loved ones, nervously wait for news from home and attempt make sense of what has happened.

With a frenetic feel, the ensemble cast each play multiple roles. They barely leave the stage throughout the show’s duration, as they seamlessly switch characters by changing their jacket or putting on a hat. The interweaving, multi-layered stories are plentiful and surprisingly easy to follow, highlighting both the quality of the show’s writing and the talent of the cast.

There are stories of those finding themselves or finding others, along with stories of personal sadness, nestled amongst the narrative. There are two endearing strangers, a Texan housewife and a London businessman, who find a connection in their isolation and loneliness; a gay couple who are at odds with their acceptance of their temporary lives in Gander; and a woman who makes sure that the animals in the cargo holds of the grounded planes are well cared for.

There are some darker moments too, including a moving friendship between the mothers of two fire fighters, one from Gander and one from New York City, the awful treatment of a Muslim passenger at a time of paranoia and mistrust, and the hesitancy of a gay couple to come out due to the fear of a smalltown mentality.

But some of the saddest moments come as the audience discover what happens to the characters after they get back home. The show reflects not just on how 9/11 changed the world at large, but it distils the impact of the tragedy down to a band of individuals with whom the audience has made a genuine connection.

The songs are set to a pulsating, foot-stomping and instantly likeable folk-rock soundtrack, the vocals are on point and the simplicity of the set reflects both the rustic charm of the isolated township and the vast skies from which the passengers descended. The direction and choreographed movement are beautifully done, and the show has the audience laughing one minute and welling up with tears the next.

Come From Away was a heartwarming, uplifting and emotional piece of theatre that left the audience feeling like they had had their soul hugged. It’s a show which reminds you that even when the world is at its darkest, there is an instinct in humanity to be kind to those in need – a testament to the power of compassion.

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Come From Away runs at the Lyceum until 20 July 2024.

Details of Sheffield Theatres' accessibility policy can be found here.

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