Date: 19 May 2015
At 3.40pm on May 11th 1985, a small fire broke out in the main stand at Valley Parade football ground during the final match of the season. Within four minutes the wooden structure was ablaze.
The Bradford City football ground fire was the worst fire disaster in the history of English football and this year marks its 30th anniversary. Fifty four Bradford City supporters and two Lincoln City supporters lost their lives in this tragic event. Sheffield based FYSA Theatre Company have produced this remarkably moving piece of documentary theatre wholly from real life testimonies and interviews with witnesses. This unique theatrical experience brings the audience closer to the raw emotions of the survivors and provides a truthful retelling of individual stories.
Under Matt Stevens Woodhead’s uncomplicated direction, the three actors give powerful and poignant performances as they look directly out into the crowd, each sharing their traumatic accounts – from the first signs of smoke through to their experiences in the hospital burns unit. The stage is set very simply with a wooden football stand construction and there is little movement from the performers, except when they move into the stand for a section of the play – it all makes for a fitting and respectful tribute.
Perhaps what makes this courageous play all the more authentic is the way that Tom Lodge, Will Taylor and Danni Phillips deliver the tiny details and idiosyncrasies of everyday speech. The piece also has a strong sense of camaraderie and pride and is freckled with humour, which makes for a convincing and touching representation, revealing solidarity, strength and community in the face of overwhelming tragedy.
The 56 certainly moved many people in the audience to tears on the night that I attended. However, the company also managed to establish a resounding sense of Yorkshire pride, bravery and community when they described people helping each other to safety during the atrocity and then supporting one another through the aftermath.
The 56 is a considerate and emotional tribute to all who were affected by the fateful events on May 11th 1985. If you do get the opportunity to see this production, I would urge you to go.
All profits from The 56 are donated to the University of Bradford Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit.