How do we remember and recover in the aftermath of a tragedy? The 56 ends in stillness, the three actors turned away from the audience, as the names of the 56 victims of the 1985 Bradford City fire are played overhead. The cast exit without taking a bow. I’ve been thinking about this understated, poignant tribute, wondering how this moment can retain the elements of a memorial in the minds of the crew running the play daily for a month. This isn’t a question I know the answer to and I hope that The 56 opens up a wider conversation about theatre and memorialisation.
FYSA Theatre’s documentary play, created by Gemma Wilson and Matthew Stevens Woodhead, takes its text verbatim from 60 or more testimonies of people affected by the events on 11th May 1985. Within four minutes of the fire breaking out at Valley Parade football ground, the wooden structure of the main stand was ablaze. The 56 takes as its set a wooden football stand, grounding the text with this visual representation of the site. Much of the testimony describes the football stadium in detail; it’s not difficult to realise how easily the fire was able to spread.
Matthew Stevens Woodhead’s direction relies heavily on the viewer’s patience. There is little movement, the focus being the text. Whilst verbatim, it is also poetic; overlapping lines sharing common themes amongst the cast, the Yorkshire lilt carrying the words. Each cast member gives a contemplative performance, looking the audience in the eye with sorrow and a resounding need to relay the message. These are some of the most accomplished performances I’ve seen at the Fringe.
A powerful homage to those who lost their lives and those whose lives were irrevocably changed, The 56 doesn’t sensationalise or seek blame. Instead, it is a show of how solidarity and compassion guided a community through its darkest days.
The 56 is playing at Assembly George Square (Venue 17) from 18-31 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.