Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Three observers from the day recount their tales from the early Saturday morning to the aftermath. They are placed on wooden seats telling us in compelling fashion about the events that unfolded and changed football forever.
On 11th May 1985 56 people lost their lives at Valley Parade, Bradford. They had been there to see Bradford City lift the Football League Third Division trophy before playing Lincoln City. The 3 characters all attended the game, sitting in different parts of the ground though 2 were in the stand when the fire started. They escaped with their lives. All have not escaped the mental scarring that came with such a tragic accident. Their narrative takes us through their match day ritual, their hopes and dreams for the day and their club and how the aftermath truly affected them.
The writing was good and fairly crisp. It is always difficult with verbatim as actors feel compelled to sit. Each of the 3 performers were simply excellent in drawing you in and making you feel part of the whole experience but I felt that the medium chosen didn’t work as well as they wished.
With the current events surrounding Hillsborough it would be legitimate to suggest that the Bradford City fire may have suddenly become a footnote. The problem we have theatrically with the fire is that there is no real sense of injustice, it was an accident, the report in the aftermath was correct and praised the fans and the emergency services did a fantastic job. In short, where is the conflict upon which to base the drama?
In essence though there was a drama and as a football fan I well remember the fire. It made us all think and since health and safety has become such a massive part of our culture now it is safe to say that fire safety has massively changed because of this accident. I have sat through many fire safety sessions with this horrific video being shown as evidence that you truly can’t ever be too careful.
The staging particularly reminded me of this as it was wooden benches upon which our 3 storytellers were sat. It was evocative of the time period and you could see why wooden stands are no longer used in grounds in the UK.
As a piece of theatre this captured me and challenged me. What I thought though was lacking were the voices of the City who were not there. Of course we could hear their concern through the narrators when reported the distress of others who got in to visit in hospital or how the city came together with their humour but I just think there is more in this story than what was seen on the day; telling me people were so together is always second best to showing me that they were together.
I therefore found myself wanting to love this show more than I did. I wanted to be all effusive in my praise but the fantastic performances onstage are just not matched by the packaging needed to make me enthuse. As verbatim theatre it was truly great but I think that the story needed more about it to convince me it was a dramatic piece needing to be told in that way.