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Review: Those Two Weeks at the Unity Theatre ***

March 1, 2018

It's become a defining moment in Liverpool’s history.

But behind the headlines and the long fight for justice, it’s important to remember that the terrible tragedy of Hillsborough happened to people like you and me, ordinary people just going about their ordinary lives.

Playwright Ian Salmon had to work on April 15 1989, but his dad and two brothers all travelled to Sheffield for the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. His father watched the horror unfold from another stand, while his siblings walked out of the Leppings Lane end alive, unlike so many fellow football fans.

Almost 30 years on, Salmon has looked back, not to the tragedy itself, but to the fortnight leading up to the game, his interesting and unusual approach to the subject bringing an extra layer of humanity to the bald facts and figures.

The Millers are an everyday working-class Liverpool family, living life as it comes – making it up or figuring it out as they go along.

The siblings, Joe, Pete and Jackie, bicker and niggle and fight like siblings do. Meanwhile there’s tension between the parents, Dave and Theresa, which rises to the surface and bubbles over in to a marital crisis.

They all have their dreams and aspirations, and life to live ahead of them. Quiet Joe (James Ledsham) has a newly-acquired girlfriend, Sue, and plans to fly the family nest. Joker Pete (Daniel Cassidy) harbours a serious career ambition. And Jackie has her own explosive secret.

It all plays out on the sofa and chair in the Millers' front room and over the first two weeks of April 1989, the characters oblivious to what’s to come but the audience painfully aware of the clock ticking inexorably towards that fateful kick off.

Salmon has a good ear for family dynamics and humorous banter, and his piece has real promise.

However, the wordy script could do with some judicious pruning (the second half could easily lose 15 minutes without forfeiting any main plot lines) and the general delivery needs tightening up. Long silences and stilted conversations sap energy from the production.

As you get to know the characters and learn about their aspirations, the sense of foreboding grows. Will they get to see those aspirations fulfilled? What does the future hold for each?

Salmon could have decided to leave the audience wondering. Instead, he opts for a lengthy but powerful epilogue, a testimony indeed, which answers those questions in poignant fashion.

 

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