In August 2014, I reviewed Yorkshire company FYSA Theatre’s production of The 56, in its first incarnation at the Edinburgh Fringe. At the time, I called the 50-minute show an ‘impressive piece of political theatre’ that was performed, directed, and written sympathetically, by ‘a theatre company in its infancy’.
On Sunday, 31 May this year, I went along to Theatre Delicatessen in Sheffield to watch the final date on the company’s national tour. What I found, was a much different and vastly improved piece of theatre.
On May 11, 1985, a fire ripped through Bradford City Stadium during a match between Bradford and Lincoln City, killing 56 of the spectators and injuring hundreds more.
2015 marks the thirtieth anniversary of English football’s worst fire disaster, and since last June, FYSA have conducted nearly 60 interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses to the event. The 56 is a piece of new writing, verbatim theatre, which brings together first-hand testimony from the Bradford City Stadium Fire.
The three intersecting monologues subtly track the progression of the fire, from the general sense of euphoria burgeoning at the start of the match, through the start of the flames, and right up to the months and years of recovery worked through by the people who were injured, as they mourned those they had lost.
With an extra 25-minutes of running time added to the original production, and a greater number of interviews collected over the intervening months, the emotional power of this piece cannot be underestimated.
The young, three-person cast tackle their subject matter with sensitivity and emotion, and there has clearly been a lot of work done on characterisation which has paid off. The lack of movement, which I found to be a flaw in the original piece, has been reworked into a well-staged, subtle progression around the space.
Similarly, the use of audio – including a harrowing recording of TV commentator John Helm as he realises the extent of the fire – is placed perfectly to emphasise the gravity of the disaster, without sensationalising the event.
There are two things that audiences can take away from this production. The first, is the overwhelming courage of the city of Bradford and the people involved in the tragedy. And the second, is that this is a company who know and respect their subject matter, and have created a piece of original theatre that will honour those who died, and pass on their story to a whole new generation of people.
FYSA Theatre’s The 56 will be performed again at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, August 2015.
Visit www.fysatheatre.com for more details.