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Liverpool Theatre Festival stages Hillsborough play in busy 2022 line up

Liverpool Theatre Festival opens this week with 17 shows coming to St Luke’s Bombed Out Church between now and September 11.

The festival, now in its third year, was started in 2020 by Liverpool producer Bill Elms to help theatre companies and performers continue to play to live audiences during the Covid pandemic.

Last year, Little LTF which showcases new writing, was also introduced and now takes place annually in May.

One show which was premiered at Little LTF this spring is 97+ which was so well received it is now set to be staged as part of the main festival with two evening performances on Friday, September 9.

The drama is based on the Hillsborough disaster and is set in 2012 when survivors John and Steve, now both middle-aged men, are both dealing with the trauma they experienced as boys on that day in April 1989.

While John bottles up his emotions, only occasionally revealing them to wife Liz and still suffering from night terrors, Steve is in and out of hospital dealing with multiple mental health issues with the help of nurse Nancy.

When the two men meet by accident, it sparks a conversation about their shared experiences.

Writer and director Tom Cain explains: “I always wanted to write a play about Hillsborough. My grandad was a survivor, so I learned about it from an early age, although he himself didn’t really talk much about his feelings."

In fact, this isn’t Cain's first Hillsborough play. He also wrote one while studying for a drama GCSE and returned to the subject when he was at Edge Hill University, penning 97+ as a full-length drama with nine characters.

This pared down festival version features four central characters but retains the heart of the story.

Cain turned to the Hillsborough Survivors’ Support Alliance to make sure he faithfully represented the struggles so many of those who were at Sheffield that day have gone through ever since, and spoke to 10 people whose input helped form the story and the characters.

“They were so shocking, some of the interviews,” he recalls. “But they were happy because they knew I was using what they said in the right way, to educate people.”

Above: Liverpool Theatre Festival. Top: 97+ Photos by David Munn

The play received plaudits from audiences and reviewers in May, and one of the survivors who had been interviewed even came along to see it.

Its writer says: “(After the show) he put his hand out and shook my hand, and it was very emotional. He said it was accurate and well done.”

While the issues raised in the play are serious and hard-hitting, there are lighter moments and Cain also points out that it ends hopefully for both John and Steve: "These two survivors are strangers at first and they go away with a friendship. There’s still some hope and that’s an important message as well.”

Now 97+ returns to St Luke’s Bombed Out Church as part of the main Liverpool Theatre Festival.

The 2022 event opens tomorrow with the award-winning Edinburgh Fringe hit I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical and closes with Cahoots Theatre Company’s Looking For Me Friend – The Music of Victoria Wood. The programme also includes comedy, cabaret, opera and children's theatre.

Bill Elms says: “From the very beginning, it was our mission to create a diverse festival to showcase new and developing works on an exciting platform for the talent which thrives so strong in our city and region.

“We’re very proud of this year’s programme. So join us for 12 days of fun, laughter, drama, and uplifting live entertainment.”

Liverpool Theatre Festival runs from August 31 to September 11. Full programme details and booking HERE

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