DramaFeaturedNorth WestReview

97+ – Liverpool Olympia

Reviewer: Clare Comer

Writer/Director Tom Cain

The 15th April 1989. It’s a date that rings in the ears of Liverpool FC fans everywhere. The FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool vs Nottingham Forest. A football game that changed the course of so many lives. When overcrowding in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough stadium resulted in the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans and caused injuries and long-term trauma for many many more, it is fitting that the full version premiere of Tom Cain’s play 97+ was staged on the weekend of what will be the 35th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

Songs and chants that you would usually hear on the terraces are played into the theatre from the minute the doors open. This creates the type of atmosphere you would usually find at a football ground. Red and white spotlights light up, what is a simple, but effective set design. Before the show starts there is a trigger warning – the play tackles themes of suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and depression.

Based in 2012, the play focuses on the lives of two Hillsborough survivors, John (Colin Kilbride) and Steve (Leslie Longley) and a family who lost their son/father in the tragedy. John won’t speak about the events of that tragic day but seems to take his frustrations out on his poor wife Liz (Claudia Molyneaux). He claims she doesn’t understand what he went through because she wasn’t there, but the reality is she is living with his pain daily and trying to support him the best that she can. Molyneaux stirs empathy as the wife who can’t do right for doing wrong and she does well to highlight the feelings of a spouse or partner who is trying to pick up the pieces. Night terrors keep John awake as he constantly relives the trauma of having a young man that he tried to save, die in his arms. Kilbride excels in his role as the man who wants to tell his story, but struggles to open up.

A chance meeting with Steve in a corner shop results in a friendship between John and Steve that ultimately saves the latter’s life. Longley gives a raw and emotive performance as Steve, as he tackles themes of alcoholism and depression. The character seems to feel he has no way out and he can’t escape the guilt he feels for being a Hillsborough survivor. One of the final scenes is hard to watch, as Longley drunkenly sings “Poor Scouser Tommy” while contemplating taking his own life. Tears were shed amongst audience members which only highlights the impact of Longley’s performance.

Some light hearted moments come from the family of the play. Sally (Lynne Fitzgerald) is a typical Scouse Nan, overprotective with no filter. Stuart (Graham Padden) tries to reign in his wife, but he can’t control her reaction to finding out that their 23 year old granddaughter Charlotte (Alice McKillop) wants to go to Zante with her friends in the summer. Credit to McKillop as she takes on two roles in the show, playing both Charlotte and the role of Nancy (Steve’s nurse). She plays both parts in such a different way that you don’t know it’s the same actress.

The play is very cleverly written and the stories are tied together nicely at the end. The characters have a bond that cannot be broken and it is fitting that the play ends with the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. 97+ sets out to educate audiences about what really happened on that fateful day back in 1989 and emphasises how almost 35 years later people are still dealing with their trauma. An inquest in 2016 ruled that fans were unlawfully killed but no one has been held to account. At the end of a storm there’s a golden sky and one day justice and truth will prevail.

Reviewed on Friday 12 April 2024

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The TRUTH will prevail

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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