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Helping survivors through powerful Hillsborough play means more than five-star reviews

2 months ago

Helping survivors through powerful Hillsborough play means more than five-star reviews

You’d expect a play about Hillsborough to affect the families of those who died or sadly witnessed the tragic events.

But even Tom Cain, whose powerful play 97+ is returning to the Liverpool stage in April in a new full-length production, is surprised – yet delighted – about how far reaching the impact of its hard-hitting message has been.

“When we were at the Edinburgh Fringe with the shorter version, an army veteran who wasn’t from Liverpool, and was nothing at all to do with Hillsborough, came to watch it, and he then brought his mate who was also ex-army to see it.

“They took things from it because one of the themes is PTSD, and they could relate to it because of what they’d seen and experienced while serving.

“People think that because it’s about Hillsborough it’s just about football, but it isn’t at all, it’s about male mental health, supporting each other, and talking to each other …

“And, crucially, that there is help out there.”

97+ Theatre Hillsborough - The Guide Liverpool

Tom adds: “The fact that it made such a positive impact and may have helped army vets who are suffering meant the world.

“That is an honour and makes me feel proud.

“We’ve had amazing reviews, 10 out of 10 and ‘possibly the most powerful piece of theatre’ they’d ever seen from Liverpool Theatre Festival, and five-star reviews in Edinburgh, but while that’s always good to hear, the comments from people like him, and the Hillsborough survivors, mean so much more.”

Set in 2012, the play is about Hillsborough survivors John and Steve who, now middle-aged men, are still dealing with the trauma they suffered as boys 23 years before.

John bottles up his emotions, so only wife Liz sees the night tremors that plague him, while Steve, who lives alone, gets help from the hospital – or a vodka bottle – to deal with his.

Tom, 24, from Southport, first wrote the drama when he was a student at Edge Hill University, with help from the Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance, which provides therapy through the Hillsborough Transformational Recovery Model (and for which each performance raises money), and survivors who he interviewed about their experiences.

Tom Cain

But it was his own grandad, Andrew Cain, who was at the Sheffield stadium for Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest in 1989, that inspired him to write it.

“I learnt about Hillsborough at a young age because my grandad, who passed away from cancer in 2014, was at the ground.

“He was a tough man who didn’t show his emotions – he used to say ‘you don’t cry unless there’s blood’ – but Hillsborough really affected him.

“It intrigued me as to why this man I looked up to so much, and was such a strong man, got so upset about Hillsborough. On the anniversary, April 15, he would go so quiet, and I remember the first game he went to after Hillsborough, in 2005 against Middlesbrough, with me and my dad, and I could tell he was on edge.”

Tom wrote his first play about Hillsborough for his Drama GCSE, another at Runshaw College where he studied Acting on the Professional Performance Programme, and then at Edge Hill.

Although he recreated the play for LTF and the Fringe – along with a schools’ version – it is the full-length production that will now be performed this year around the 35th anniversary of the disaster. One, already sold out at Edge Hill on April 16, at which Professor Phil Scraton will talk about his work on the Hillsborough campaign, and one at Liverpool Olympia on April 12: “Although I would like to see it tour wider.”

It will include real sets, seven characters instead of four (a whole new family is added), and verbatim testimonies of those who generously replayed events for Tom, so that the truth could be told.

“It’s a huge responsibility to tell this story, about how many people were affected by Hillsborough and are still affected by Hillsborough,” says Tom. 

“But it’s important to raise awareness.

“It’s also about making sure others know the truth.  That’s vital. When I was at uni and said I was writing about Hillsborough, some mates who were from the south asked ‘what’s that?’ and I couldn’t believe it. This is history.”

And he adds: “Only by people understanding what those who survived Hillsborough went through and are still going through, will we stop the so-called banter, and the victim chanting, that still goes on around it.”

As with any drama with the city at its heart, there are laughs in the play and, overwhelmingly, while the topics it touches on are heavy, it remains positive.

“It will hopefully encourage men to talk, and it ends on a ray of hope,” explains Tom. “That although it’s sad and it’s difficult, there is help.

“I get a massive feeling of joy when I see the actors on stage and when there’s a standing ovation, because it says the play is a good piece – and because it shows how drama can have such a powerful and positive impact.”

97+, written and directed by Tom and co-produced by Tom Cain Theatre and Bill Elms Productions in collaboration with the Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance, will play at Liverpool Olympia on Friday, April 12: 7pm

Tickets are £25.30 / £27.50 and you can book yours HERE.

Get the latest for Liverpool HERE.



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