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The 56 review at Battersea Arts Centre, London – ‘sensitively handled’

Tom Lodge in The 56, Battersea Arts Centre, London. Photo: Aenne Pallasca Tom Lodge in The 56, Battersea Arts Centre, London. Photo: Aenne Pallasca

This taut, assured piece of verbatim theatre tells the story of the Bradford City stadium fire which, thirty years ago in 1985, broke out in the antiquated wooden-roofed football stands and spread so rapidly it left 56 people dead and many more injured.

FYSA, an emerging, National Student Drama Festival award-winning documentary theatre company, presented a piece about the housing crisis and the Focus E15 protesters at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was a little rough but it was politically engaged, angry and passionate. The 56, its earlier show from 2014, cements its evident skill. Matthew Stevens-Woodhead’s production is controlled and potent; the descriptions of the day of the fire itself are particularly tense and affecting and he draws measured performances from his cast.  

Standing on a recreated section of the Valley Parade stands, Emily Cairnes, Will Taylor, and Tom Lodge describe the events leading up to the fire as well as the aftermath, the physical and emotional recovery of those who survived.

Adapted from more than 60 real-life testimonies, but performed by just three people, it would be beneficial to know a little more about the writing process and how exactly these interviews were edited into what we see on stage. The lack of clarity in this respect does raise questions about the ethics and responsibilities of verbatim work of this kind; that said, it’s clearly been made with sensitivity and intelligence, and it’s eloquent about both community and the act of commemoration. This is definitely a company to watch.

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A sensitively-handled piece of verbatim theatre from a young company of skill and ambition