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Review: The 56 at Newcastle Live Theatre

The 56
Newcastle Live Theatre
Wednesday 7th September 2016.

May 11th 1985 was supposed to be a day of celebration in Bradford. Their football club had not only achieved the promotion, they were going up as champions and they were going to pick up their first trophy for a number of decades before the match. As a result of this, plus the fact it was the last game of the season, Bradford City’s ground was heaving with people and the old wooden “main” stand was full. At 3.40pm a small fire started under the seats and within four minutes the fire had spread to the whole stand. The 56 is a verbatim play that follows the testimony of 3 fans who were there on that day.

Photo: Joe Priestley
The cast of 3, who have met the individuals that they are describing in person, describe the powerful accounts of three of the 11076 fans that attended that match. They describe in chronological order their association with the club, their journey to the Valley Parade ground, the emotions through the build up to the match and the match itself. Then, one by one, they notice that something is wrong, something is different about the stand. The actors remain calm as they describe the moment it is clear that something terrible was happening. There is no histrionics in the delivery of the recollections.

Photo: Joe Priestley
The way in which the stories are delivered keeps the dignity and pride of the community of Bradford alive. The real power in the delivery of the accounts lies in the acknowledgement of the pride of the people, the city and way in which the tackled both events on the day and afterwards.

This piece of theatre rises above finger pointing or speculation. It deals with the real raw human emotions of a massive tragedy that still affects the survivors that witnessed it.

Photo: Joe Priestley
We had recently witnessed E15 by Lung Theatre and were impressed by their ability to sensitively deal with the issues faced by a community (LINK to E15 Review). The 56 is another tremendous drama that left a lasting impression on the audience. The fact that a share of the profits is being donated to the Bradford Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit further illustrates how this production understands rather than sensationalises the subject matter.

The 56 have not been forgotten. Neither have the many others who survived but were affected by the events of that day.  This show will help the generations who were not around in 1985 to understand. After all nobody should die at a football match in a fire. Lung Theatre have once again delivered a powerful and remarkable piece of theatre.

The show will now transfer to:
Otley Courthouse – 9th September
Selby Town Hall – 10thSeptember
Milford Haven Torch Theatre – 23rd November

This review was written by Stephen Oliver the North East Theatre Guide – follow Stephen at @panic_c_button


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