“Nobody dies at football matches in fires. It doesn’t happen.”
“The 56” is a production aimed at retelling the stories of survivors, their relatives and members of the emergency services, from the darkest day in Bradford’s history – the City fire of 11 May 1985 that killed 56 football fans.
We went to see the production last night. As we walked into the Studio and anticipated the start, we saw a small set with two rows of wooden seats, six seats long, as well as three
actors stood facing the stage. It was impossible to ignore the feeling in the room – there were audience members present who had known loved ones who had died or been injured in the fire or that they had been at Valley Parade on that fateful day itself.
The entire performance, around 75 minutes long, was full of emotion. It was performed by just three actors – two male, one female. The female looked back at the tragedy where she helped a few people get out of the stand, while she suffered severe burns and some time in hospital. She goes on to recall Margaret Thatcher’s visit after the fire where she jokes about women who didn’t usually like Mrs Thatcher, warming to her in person! The second is a man who was 11 at the time of the fire and told the story that he returned to school on the Monday where he was asked if he had been at the ground on the day, when he replied yes and that was it. He goes on to mention that those were the days when counselling didn’t exist and people were just left to grow up themselves. The final character is a man who was sat near where the fire started and was with his family. He originally went up to the back tunnel to get out but somehow managed to run back down on to the pitch and get away alive – to this day struggling to cope with the fire itself.
Never before have I seen such a moving performance which was so well thought out. The emotion from the actors was incredible – they had a very clear understanding of the true feelings of the fans caught up in the disaster that day. It was a simple set – and a relatively basic layout – but this was very fitting and helped not to distract away from the true message of the production. The stories of the survivors were all true – but constructed in a way that the tales of all three actors intertwined, yet were from three different perspectives. It was clear to feel focus yet feeling and sentiment throughout the theatre as the tales moved from getting into the stadium to the cup presentation then on to the match itself before focussing on the fire and getting out of it. It then moved onto the aftermath and how they struggle to cope with it even now, 30 years on. The final moments are a reading of the names of the spectators who lost their lives that day. The Director, Matt Woodhead, and creator, Gemma Wilson, are to be credited massively for this effort which they are hoping will raise thousands of pounds for the Bradford Burns Unit Appeal. It was told in such a fitting way to remember what happened that day, full of emotion and an entirely moving show. The clarity of the performance will have brought back memories for so many people.
There is just one more showing left in Bradford of this production – starting just a couple of hours after the club’s last home match of the season where fans will mark a minute’s silence to remember the 56. It would be entirely fitting to round off the day by going to watch this production.
This unique theatrical experience will be visiting The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford from the 23rd-25th April. It is recommended for 13+ audiences only. Tickets can be purchased at the Alhambra Box Office on 01274 432000 or online at http://www.bradford-theatres.co.uk and are priced at £11.50 for adult.