The 56: Play documenting Bradford Fire disaster to air at The Lowry 30 years on

“Nobody dies at football matches in fires. It doesn’t happen.”

These words paint the picture as to what will soon unfold in the The 56, a chilling play based on a tragic disaster.

30 years ago today, 56 people lost their lives after a fire broke out in Bradford City’s main stand in their final match of the season against Lincoln City.

The production which attempts to retell this horrifying tale and pay homage to those who lost their lives is coming to The Lowry on Saturday 23 May.

Co-writer Matt Stevens-Woodhead, from Sheffield, got the idea when he went to the memorial for the 29th anniversary last year.

“We started to interview people and found that it was a fantastic story to tell,” said Matt.

“Not just the bravery from people on the day but the courage of the city in the aftermath, and it really took off from there.”

The biggest test for Matt and the team was how to handle such a sensitive subject and portray it to an audience.

Then came the added pressure of performing in Bradford and Lincoln.

“Nothing prepared us for the reception we received in Lincoln and Bradford, he added. “It was very special in Lincoln.

“It isn’t spoken about much but people who were there on the day came and thanked us. One woman who was pregnant in the main stand brought her daughter to come and see the show.”

Through a series of around 70 testimonials, taken from fans, policemen, commentators and more, the play lives out an A to Z of what happened, says Matt.

He added: “We wanted to make sure that it was people’s stories and they were telling them as if they were there. People have said it gives a voice back to the supporters.

“We decided to take real interviews and put it into the piece. Some stories are not in the public domain at all and it’s great to have these stories given a voice after 30 years.

“It’s important to find a way of cementing and solidifying these testimonies.”

Producer Elin Schofield, born in Sale, came into the project knowing little about the disaster, but intrigue drew her in.

She said: “The fact that it was on a similar scale to Hillsborough but that I wasn’t as much in the know kind of baffled me.

“It is amazing to see the reaction people have had, especially going to Bradford to do it for the family and friends of the people who were there on the day – it really hit home the extent of the project.”

Elin will be producing at The Lowry for the first time in this one-off show, a theatre she visited many times when growing up, and she admitted it would be a special experience.

Not only did this play prove to be a personal learning curve for Elin, but she believes it has helped others to understand the extent of the fire.

“I think it’s important for the story to get out there,” Elin added. “It’s 56 lives that were tragically lost and it shouldn’t have been that way.

“These lives need to be remembered and people need to be educated by it over the years to come. It would be nice to think that the show does that.”

Image courtesy of Superbeest040 via FlickR, with thanks.

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