It’s been almost 23 years since the Hillsborough Disaster which remains to this day the worst stadium disaster in British history. It had a profound effect on not only decisions related to crowd control and stadia organisation – all standing terraces were removed in England and Scotland as a result – but huge inquiries were launched, large memorial services have been held, and it has been referenced in both television and film over the years.
Sarah Rogers’ new play Crush deals with the aftermath of the events, acquiring interviews with spectators, fans, police officers and passers-by who witnessed it. Rogers says that her interest in what happened comes from being surrounded by it: ‘I grew up in Sheffield where it happened so I was brought up around the whole event really. I know people who were there and it was mentioned a lot when I was child so I was always really interested in it’.
The inspiration for the piece also comes from more artistic sources. Rogers explains that she ‘used poems that people have written online as well as images – and got the story from that’. It’s interesting that a real-life, tragic event such as this seems inherently dramatic as people have expressed their reactions in creative formats offering an eclectic mix of styles and approaches.
The title of the play comes as a reaction to the whole event; it reflects and symbolises people’s emotions and feelings over the last two decades – and that blunt approach to the topic could seem cold but always gives the play focus and challenges its audience to confront the issues borne out of a real-life tragedy. Rogers appeals to the scale of it all: ‘It changed football, it changed stadiums, it was the biggest disaster and I think if people don’t know about it they should know about it’.
On the question of why to stage this kind of play now, Rogers says that ‘it’s been in the news a lot recently and now is the best time because further documents are going to be released in the summer. Everyone has their own opinion about it so I thought it’d be nice to question it before the documents came out’. It’s surprising that information is still to be released almost 23 years after the event and Rogers feels that ‘they should have done it ages ago or not all’. She also comments on a sense of justice which may come from producing the play, arguing that is has ‘a knock on effect, I’m affected because my family are affected. I think being in Sheffield you almost have that feeling of guilt because it happened there and that’s why I’m so adamant to do it’.
The piece itself is a hard one to tackle, not least because of its emotional weight but because of the difficulty of staging it. ‘At first it was verbatim theatre and I did a lot of interviews with people I knew at home – a police officer, a passer-by, a football supporter – but by doing that I felt I didn’t get enough information from it. So I decided to go a different route and offer both perspectives of say the police officer and the fan’. This provides an air of clarity and objective storytelling to Roger’s play which deals with opposing sides of the argument but also provides a platform for those who have not spoken about it.
This idea of bringing to light the smaller details which we might not know about drives this piece, and reminds us that even with the most tragic of events, theatre can act as a tool for discussion, criticism, reflection and consideration.
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