The 56

theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 10 Aug 2015

It’s been 30 years since a fire in Bradford City’s football stadium killed 56 people. FYSA Theatre’s play, formed verbatim from interviews with survivors and witnesses, is a spare, unflinching account of that day.

The 56, performed by only three actors, is a careful examination of both the individual and the communal sides of the tragedy. Football matches are, of course, so much about coming together, knowing which chants to sing, etc, but deeply personal experiences of the match are set alongside the inherently crowded and communal stadium setting.

Matt Stevens-Woodhead’s direction is very still, focusing on a calmness that belies the panicked scenes the survivors describe. The words and the interviewees are allowed to speak for themselves. And they do: the way the interview extracts are structured makes for gripping storytelling, with images both hopeful and horrific taking shape in the mind’s eye.

FYSA have approached a sensitive task with earnestness and integrity, but verbatim theatre inherently raises questions. How to portray an amalgam of real people? Corinna Wilson showboats slightly, but the other two performers are restrained, without sacrificing intensity during the more harrowing moments. In Will Taylor’s faraway stare particularly it’s almost possible to see the visions of memory in his eyes. 

There’s the broader ethical question of whether conflating several people into one or two characters is its own act of disrespect, but FYSA have aimed squarely at honouring the victims of the fire, and ensuring that audiences today, 30 years on, know that this happened. And that they never will forget it.