Come From Away highlights human kindness in the wake of 9/11 tragedy

A musical currently in Belfast as part of its first major UK & Ireland tour highlights the human kindness on display in the days after 9/11.

Come From Away tells the incredible real-life story of the 7,000 air passengers from all over the world who were grounded into the small Newfoundland town of Gander on September 11, 2001, as the Federal Aviation Administration shut down its airspace in response to the terrorist attacks.

The play highlights the kindness from the small community who invited these "come from aways" into their lives with open hearts and left a lasting impression. It is currently showing at the Grand Opera House in Belfast.

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The winner of four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical in London and the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical on Broadway, the accolades are well-deserved for this heart-wrenching and heart-warming play that captures the range of emotions that engulfed the world in the days after the tragedy of 9/11.

The musical follows the stories of a number of passengers who found their flights diverted, and those citizens of Newfoundland who tried their best to help.

A particular highlight of the show for me was the story of the first female American Airlines captain, Beverly Bass, who found herself amongst those in Gander. The song following the ups and downs of her life and career in aviation, 'Me and the Sky', is an incredible feat in storytelling with stunning vocals from Sara Poyzer to match.

Other real life stories documented within Come From Away include the mother of a New York firefighter and the eager local news reporter marking her first days in the job covering the huge story and how the town handled it's population doubling overnight as a result.

Despite being a story featuring on the care and compassion of the people of Gander in the wake of a terrible incident, the play doesn't shy away from difficult topics. Ali (Jamal Zulfiqar) is a Muslim man inspired by many real passengers, faces discrimination based on his ethnicity and religion soon after 9/11, with many of the other passengers and airport security suspicious of him.

Jewish and Muslim passengers struggle together to find suitable food in the small town, but all form connections and deeply affect the Gander community - and each other. This is summed up in the 'Prayer' song, a real stand-out moment in the show, which is sung in different languages as passengers from different religions pray together.

Once the American airspace reopens days after 9/11 and the "plane people" are able to leave, it's clear to see the connections developed between the passengers and the community they leave behind. A moment I loved was the fast-forward to the 10th anniversary on September 11, 2011, where the passengers all returned to Gander to catch up with those who cared for them.

The small ensemble cast is small but mighty, each taking on multiple roles and acting in the same set throughout the play, which has just a few chairs and tables used in different ways. Running at an hour and 45 minutes with no interval, the play packs a punch in a small amount of time.

Telling the story of a horrific day and the knock-on effect it had around the world, Come From Away also tells the story of the life-affirming kindness that can be found in darkness, and how a community grouping together can create a lasting impression.

Come From Away is showing at the Grand Opera House in Belfast from June 25 to June 29. More information and tickets available here.

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