Edinburgh Fringe 2012
The appalling events from 23 years ago are in themselves dramatic. Bringing the views, opinions and the voices of people affected by the tragedy in a single, simple drama with a young company is bold, bright and brash. It is also highly effective and brings to the stage, the truth of a working class struggle against an appalling injustice.
I am a football fan. In the 1980’s thanks to my own team selling Stevie Nicol to one half of the Merseyside divide, was a Red. Hillsborough is one of the JFK moments for football fans. I know where I was. I will never forget. I have signed petitions, argued with the ignorant whilst refusing to buy the Sun for more than it insulting my intelligence. I was therefore ripe as a member of the audience. I am also a sucker for a Scouse accent!
But a mere emotional response to a topic is simply not enough to argue this as a worthy piece of theatre. It is important that analysis is based on how the use of theatre as a medium effectively adds to our understanding of the issue. In short is the performance worthy as a piece of theatre? On the whole the answer is immensely positive.
The performance is a mixture of testimony spoken directly to the audience and dramatic reconstructions of meetings and support groups; taxi rides to Lime Street with three witnesses; and the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is the voices of the people affected that hit you hardest. This witness testimony comes without an editor. There can be no more compelling story to be told and effective drama than the words of people who were there. It was spell binding.
It began with audio from the day. Some of it I remember and that was very disconcerting. Already I was listening and remembering in ways that were uncomfortable. Such discomfort was managed and recruited to the cause skilfully through the young cast.
I would put money on them being infants at the time of Hillsborough – if born at all. They performed beyond their years. On a couple of occasions the testimony of an older person delivered by a young performer can jar but the standards that the actors brought were highly polished and highly reverential. These young performers knew what they had in their mouths and profanities aside delivered a polished performance that was truly engaging. It was a credit to the survivors-a s it ought to be. They were a credit to the memory. I saw this with an audience who were, in some cases, like me hearing what we knew and yet there were still enough intakes of breath to remind us that this was a modern day tragedy beyond comprehension.
It was a simple staging and design that served as a backdrop for the piece and ensured that we were drawn to the simple stories, simply told, simply devastating. “She was 19 on the Monday and died on the Sunday.” ” Margaret Thatcher was a tough woman when you think about it.”
Video footage and photography was also used to show images and the Andy Birnam appearance at the memorial service. It helped contextualise the descriptive prose and heightened the ghastly after taste for those of us who are still trying to figure out why it had to happen at all.
The production does not add much in terms of a performance of real life tragedies in the way that What I heard about Iraq did but this is perhaps more to do with it being another play that deals with a tragedy rather than an original piece of theatre. What it did to its credit is recognise that even within the committees and organisations established to support the families there are schisms, splits and differences of opinion. It refused to duck that responsibility which made it more convincing. They talk intelligently and some of the dramatisation must be redeveloped rather than being verbatim. That having been said it was not as if words were put in anyone’s mouths but given context for the purpose of the drama.
The audience were enthralled, listening intently and being drawn to the side of seeking the truth; no matter what that is. Hillsborough is my generation’s Ibrox disaster. This production does add to the debate and continues to put pressure on the authorities to bring justice not only for the 96 but also for the thousands who have been affected by the tragedy. This production is well worth a visit. I wear my wristband and the stickers are proudly on my diary. I am sure that if you need one reason to go and see this show it should be to find out who Jon Paul Gilhooley was and wonder why 23 years on he died at the age he did.