A musical play that tells the unique true story of the people who were stranded in the Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks has opened in Melbourne.
After the twin towers and Pentagon had been targets and nobody knew if there were going to be more attacks, 38 planes carrying nearly 7,000 people from over 100 countries were redirected to Gander, almost doubling the population of the remote Canadian town. In addition to this, there was no knowing how long they would be there.
Come From Away tells the story of how the people of Gander welcomed these unexpected, confused and no doubt scared visitors to their home, not only giving them beds and food but also help and support. It is a moving story that has been lauded with a Tony Award and several Olivier Awards from its stints on Broadway and the West End.
Director Martin Croft told The Irish Echo: "I've been in the business for a long time and this is one show that is really quite extraordinary. We're very excited to bring it to Australia.
"The story is actually not about 9/11, it's about 9/12. It's what happened in the days afterwards that was totally different to New York and the rest of the world's experience of what was happening.
“It's about the friendship and companionship and compassion and empathy that this little island showed to 'Come From Away' people. 9/11 is in the background but the story itself is really about the generosity of this town and how they made everybody feel welcome and mothered them, made sure they were safe and tried to make them happy and give them as much information and comfort as they were able to.
"There's a wonderful image the day it happened of people in the airport just standing looking at this world map and going, 'Where are we? I didn't know there even was such a place'. All these different cultures and languages turned up and the poor Ganderites had to learn how to make food to make everybody happy."
All based on real life people and events, the play shows how the local people helped those stranded which extended to great displays of kindness such as waiting by the phone with one woman who was desperate to hear any news of her New York fire fighter son.
"It's incredibly emotional but you get really emotional because of the kindness. It's not because it's sad, you're sitting there watching and thinking, 'Wow, I wish everybody was like this'. That's the moving part of the show, the humanity of it."
The play features music with an Irish flavour, honouring the major Hibernian heritage of Newfoundland. The Gander accent sounds Irish. that comes from it being the first stop and place to settle for so many people leaving Ireland.
"It's an interesting accent because it is such an amalgamation of the immigrant Irish Celtic influx that came after the American/Canadian accent had been established. It blended on this little island that was the first port of call for anyone that was leaving the British Isles."
The play's title comes from the term people in Gander call people from off the island, a 'come from away'. The play has also played in Ireland with a stint at the Abbey Theatre preceding its West End run.
Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news of 9/11. Martin tells us the people in this play had a very different experience because they saw and experienced so much kindness because of the great evil act.
"They have this strange experience. They knew this terrible thing had happened but they actually had a wonderful time. They were meeting new people, having BBQs, going on walks in this beautiful country and so at the end of it, they had to go back to reality. So in some ways they had a delayed reaction to the enormity of what went on because they were slightly shielded from it, they weren't being constantly fed with it. In the case of Nick and Diane who ended up getting married, it was a wonderful time for them and they feel quite strange about it."
"That's the real appeal of the show, I think. You can see yourself in it so much. They are just ordinary people.
"It's very personal, very connecting and very emotional."
Come From Away is currently showing at Melbourne's Comedy Theatre.