Pippa Stacey is a Yorkshire-based writer, who writes the blog Life Of Pippa. Previously a pre-professional dancer, her love of and appreciation for theatre developed at a young age. However, after becoming chronically ill as a young adult, her eyes were opened to the many challenges of being a theatregoer with a fluctuating health condition. Pippa now compiles ‘chronic illness-friendly’ reviews of individual productions and venues, and consults with regional and West End organisations, in the hope of ensuring the industry becomes even more inclusive for all.
As we approach 2020, it seems as though the whole planet would benefit from being reminded of the importance of empathy. And Come From Away, in my opinion, is the ideal remedy for this.
Based entirely on real-life stories and accounts following the tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the show celebrates people from all walks of life uniting as one to support and uplift one another in even the most trying of circumstances. And because of this sentiment alone, I firmly believe that Come From Away is the musical that the whole world needs right now.
Throughout the performance, the audience become immersed in the tales of people who were on board aeroplanes when the disaster struck, as all of North America’s airspace was forced closed. Their various journeys were rerouted, leaving them stranded in the small and famously tight-knit community of Gander, off the coast of Canada. As the passengers begin to learn of what’s happened, we see how the community of Islanders unhesitatingly band together to support those in their time of urgent need, and consequently, how the stranded visitors begin to lose their inhibitions and find themselves drawn to the Gander community’s rather unique way of life.
Acts of kindness and compassion are ingrained in every level of the story and these, combined with wickedly witty moments of humour and a stunning musical score, mean that the production has a particularly emotive impact on audience members. With hearty laughter one moment and pin-droppingly, heartbreakingly shocked silence the next, it was unsurprising to see the entire auditorium rise to their feet and give a standing ovation the poignant moment the story drew to a close.
With a 1 hour 40 minute run time and no interval, I wouldn’t be surprised if others with long-term conditions were initially wary of whether Come From Away would be suitable for their own needs. ‘Brain-fog’ and various other symptoms can mean that concentrating on one thing, no matter how immersive, for longer periods of time can be mentally and physically challenging for many, myself included. However, I was genuinely amazed at how seamlessly the entire production flowed; the story was incredibly easy to follow whilst still being gripping enough to hold your attention, and to my surprise, the curtains fell long before I was ready to say goodbye.
Minimal special effects throughout the show also mean less sensory overload to contend with, and even in the infrequent moments where these effects were utilised (such as Nick taking flash photos on his disposable camera), they were often easy to anticipate and consequently prepare yourself for in advance.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that having no interval means an earlier finishing time for the show, meaning it may even be easier to make your way home (before the rest of the venues in the area let out their crowds) and find yourself tucked up in bed before a more traditionally structured performance would even be concluding.
And speaking of trouble-free commutes back home, it seems apt to mention our accommodation at Hub by Premier Inn, St. Martin’s Lane. Situated almost in the heart of Theatreland, the location of the hotel means that many of the iconic West End theatres are only a short walk away, taking you past an array of shops, landmarks and restaurants en route. It was only an eight-minute walk from our hotel to the Phoenix Theatre, and I’m still in disbelief that we found ourselves back in our room, armed with snacks, in our pyjamas and ready for our usual post-show debrief, when we were still sat in our seats in the stalls only twenty-minutes prior.
Although there are many frustrating accessibility issues within the surrounding area, including a severe lack of dropped kerbs, cars parked over the dropped kerbs that were there, and uneven terrain for mobility aids, the hotel’s modest facilities and accessible room are more than adequate, and provide a competitive budget option for anybody travelling to the theatre. And that’s before you add the majestic complementary tea and coffee station into the equation…
And finally, I couldn’t end this piece without acknowledging the incredible Front Of House team at the Phoenix Theatre. We were greeted with warmth by various members of staff, who seamlessly assisted us with my wheelchair and stored it in the theatre’s cloakroom so that we were free to look around. Be wary that many steps are necessary to fully make the most of the venue, however, if you feel up to it, it’s well worth exploring the various floors, bars and gorgeous architecture that provide such a fitting home for this stunning production.
Often it’s the smallest of gestures that can make a difference to your overall experience, and in this case, one such act was the team reserving a small space for us to sit and rest in the downstairs bar. As somebody with an invisible illness, one of the biggest challenges throughout all my experiences as a theatregoer has been finding places to sit when my legs are feeling uncooperative, and the fact that the staff had anticipated this and gone out of their way to accommodate it certainly didn’t go unappreciated. For anybody with similar struggles to my own, one of my top overall recommendations for going to the theatre is to communicate your needs with the Front Of House staff: there is no doubt in my mind that they’ll always go out of their way to assist you.
From the empathetic message of Come From Away, to being so warmly welcomed in the theatre as a disabled patron, to adding our names and pins to the musical’s interactive map of fans and theatregoers of all nationalities, the one thing I really took away from this theatre experience was the power of inclusivity. We are all so much stronger when we’re united, and it just goes to show how the theatre industry itself can be such an influential facilitator in bringing people together and helping us to better appreciate our similarities.
As the musical concludes so eloquently; because we come from everywhere, we all Come From Away. It was a privilege to be welcomed to the Rock, and I highly recommend you journey here and experience the phenomenon for yourself. Further details for Come From Away can be found, and tickets booked, on the Official London Theatre website.
And in the meantime, you’ll find me attempting to kiss a fish to become a Newfoundlander myself. If you know, you know…