full company

The Come From Away company. Pictures: Craig Sugden

Come From Away

Birmingham Hippodrome


Just go and see it!

That’s the shortest review I have ever written and tells you all you really need to know. This is an exceptional piece of theatre about an exceptional moment in history and a largely untold story of ordinary, exceptional people.

It grabs you in its warm embrace from the opening number and leaves your spirits soaring with the excellent ceilidh band playing their farewell at the end.

In between you will laugh and cry as an island larger than the UK with a population of less than half a million back in 2001 found itself as home to 38 international and four military flights as the USA closed its airspace in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

It meant almost 7,000 passengers and crew arrived in Gander, (pop 11,880), where they were to stay for up to six days.

Gander was one of the airports chosen to park US bound flights to minimise international air travel disruption to and from other major destinations. Its 1930’s airport with huge runway is still used as an emergency stop, being the first landfall for transatlantic flights but in reality it is relic of a bygone age, having been built as what was then an essential refueling stop for flights between London and New York.

In a matter of a few hours an extra 7,000 people had arrived but far from complaining or protesting the only demonstrating the Newfoundlanders did was to show kindness and provide food, shelter and support for their fellow man, treating them as their guests, taking them into their homes, providing food, toiletries, essentials, phones and above all compassion. This was humanity at its finest.

With book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein the musical is based on real characters among the people of Gander and the travellers they cared for, housed and fed.


Kirsty Hoiles as Texan divorcee Diane and Daniel Crowder as unworldly oil executive Nick. The pair were to fall in love and get married after their chance encounter in Gander.

There is the mayor, who can be found in Tim Horton’s diner each morning, and the union and the school bus driver’s strike – suspended for the emergency – and then there are the passengers, with the gay couple, Kevin and Kevin, worried about how the locals in this isolated island would react, and finding they couldn’t care less, or the business executive moved around the world like a pawn by his oil company employers who falls for the Texan divorcee.

Islanders tend to embrace independence so we have the Bonnie from the local animal shelter breaking all the rules and crawling around the holds of planes to feed and care for animals on board, and the resident who believes any problem can be, if not actually solved, certainly made less important by a generous intake of Irish whiskey.

There is grandmother Hannah returning from holiday whose son was a New York firefighter she is unable to contact. She forms a lifelong friendship with Beulah, whose son was a firefighter on the island. It was a friendship strengthened by what we all knew was going to be the inevitable tragedy.

We had crew with friends who were flying that day, families at home worried their loved ones were on the planes in New York, and the Muslim chef who was distrusted not because of who he was, but what he was, his religion and a perception spawned by events 1,500 miles away.

One of the passengers is a rabbi and an elderly resident, sent to Canada as a child to escape the Nazis seeks him out. For reasons we cannot hope to fathom, he has never stated he is Jewish until what is almost a confessional with the rabbi. That leads to a moving moment when one of the gay couple remembers a hymn from his childhood and starts to sing Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.


Nicholas Pound as Claude Elliott, the Mayor of Gander organizing the Newfoundlander initiation ceremony which culminates in kissing a freshly caught cod, emphasising the island's fishing heritage.

Suddenly it brings home the different nationalities and faiths caught up in the horrors of 9/11 as a Christian hymn is joined by Jewish prayer along with Hindu worship and our Muslim chef, now accepted, praying to Mecca.

The strength of this musical is that it is an ensemble piece, the 12 strong cast, are playing a whole town and stacked planeloads of characters all with their part in the story. And it is all told brilliantly. Newfoundland is a former British colony then dominion, voting to join Canada in 1949, and has a large number of descendants of settlers from the fishing communities of South Western parts of Ireland and England in its population.

So, we open with the rousing sea shanty style Welcome to The Rock with song after song adding to the story, telling of emotions, fears, hopes and lives, often with an Irish lilt, with a brilliant nine piece band, under musical director Andrew Corcoran scattered around the edges of the simple and highly effective set from Beowulf Boritt. Scenes are created with little more than a dozen mismatched chairs and precision lighting from Howell Binkley.

The arrangement of chairs into diner, school hall, aircraft seating, coaches, council meeting, barbecues . . . whatever is needed, worked like clockwork and director Christoper Ashley has generated a non stop, gentle paced piece of theatre magic. 

Anyone alive then probably remembers where they were when 9/11 unfolded, it is one of those world changing events stamped in memory, yet it is hardly mentioned. Come from Away is not about that terrible act of terror, it is about what happened 1,500 miles way in Newfoundland, and despite the horrors of New York it is a heart-warming story awash with compassion and consideration for our fellow travellers through life.

It is a story of ordinary people, there is no one famous, these are people we had never heard of and, as far as most of us are concerned, will never hear of again. And that is what makes them so special, it wasn’t done for fame, fortune or even gain, the islanders refused any payment for anything, it was done purely out of kindness and simple humanity.

In a world that is full of conflict, anger and hate, that’s one rock we need to cling to. Lifelong friendships were formed, bonds forged and through Come from Away it spreads that warmth to everyone who see it. For once a standing ovation was richly deserved. It really is one not to miss.

Unusually I single no one out, the ensemble cast are all superb and include Natasha J Barnes, Daniel Crowder, Mark Dugdale, Rosie Glossop, Amanda Henderson, Kirsty Hoiles, Oliver Jacobson, Dale Mathurin, Nicholas Pound, Sara Poyzer, Bree Smith, and Jamal Zulfiqar

With Angeline Bell, Daniel Cane, Ashleigh Harvey, Alyn Hawke, Kathryn Pemberton and Kevin Yates as Standbys.

To 01-06-24 

Roger Clarke


Come From Away will be landing in the Midlands again at the Grand, Wolverhampton 6-9 November

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