Theatre in Liverpool

In Conversation – Tom Cain (97+ Playwright)

In a powerful new theatrical drama titled 97+, playwright Tom Cain delves into the profound impact of the Hillsborough disaster. The play explores the ongoing fight for justice and the enduring trauma faced by survivors.

For our latest interview, we sat down with Tom to understand his inspiration for 97+ and the significance of representing such a sensitive event on stage.

Liverpool Noise: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind 97+ and what drove you to create this theatrical drama?

Tom Cain: From a young age I have known about Hillsborough as my Grandad was a Hillsborough Survivor. Although he was not in Leppings Lane rather in the away end, watching the disaster unfold from a distance traumatised him. Each year come the anniversary my Grandads mood would change, he seemed more reserved and we were told to give him some space. He was your typical Grandad a very strong man who chose to bottle up his emotions.

I was intrigued as to why a man I looked up to so much and wouldn’t show his emotions only did come the anniversary. Over the years I learned more about it and I remember seeing Hillsborough back in the news in 2012 when a reinvestigation into the disaster was brought into place called Operation Resolve, the time frame that 97+ is set. I wrote a play about Hillsborough for my GCSE and College exams so for University I always set out to write a more thoroughly researched piece on Hillsborough with the topic being close to my family’s heart.

Liverpool Noise: The Hillsborough Disaster is a deeply sensitive and significant event in our history. How did you approach the task of representing such a tragic event on stage?

TC: I always wanted 97+ to act as a means for educating audiences on the truth of Hillsborough, raise awareness for survivors still suffering from trauma and to help end victim chanting. To ensure the play hits these three aims I had to use the verbatim dialogue to make the play real, it raw and powerful. I didn’t want to ever shy away from the dialogue. As upsetting as it is, I had to make audiences know this is real life for some survivors and sufferers of PTSD.

Although, I always ensured all the emotional dialogue was necessary and I added some scouse humour in-between the distressing scenes for the audience to go on an emotional journey and for it to act as a break from the traumatic scenes. To me the best piece of theatre makes you laugh, cry, think and inspire change.

Liverpool Noise: Could you share some insights into your collaboration with the Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance (H.S.A) and how it influenced the development of “97+”?

TC: When first writing 97+ in 2012 for my Edge Hill University Dissertation piece, I was looking for Hillsborough Survivors who I could interview to acquire verbatim testimonies to use in my play. I found the HSA on Facebook and submitted my application form to join the group. After joining I have been told by the Admin of the group that the reason there is an application form is that they’ve had trolls join the group who claim they’re survivors when they’re not and have used the group for journalism purposes that they didn’t make the HSA aware of.

You’d think after what all these people have been through with what that paper originally wrote, people would think they’ve already been through enough but unfortunately this is the world we live in. I interviewed 12 members and merged what each of them said within the seven different characters. This had to be done so no interviewer would become identifiable. I invited these members to the debut performance of 97+ at the Little Liverpool Theatre Festival of New Works.

I was ever so nervous to hear their reactions but I was overwhelmed when they said I’d got it right and they were proud of the work I’ve produced. They even gave me one of their HSA badges at the end of the show and said ‘you’re one of us now’. They’re really supportive of everything I’m doing, sharing my posts on social media, putting me on their website, attending future performances of 97+ and even encouraging more HSA members to attend, as although they found moments upsetting they also found it useful to help deal with their trauma as 97+ of course ends on a ray of hope. I am ever so grateful to those members of the HSA as without them none of this would have been possible.

In Conversation with Tom Cain 97 Theatre Playwright

Liverpool Noise: The characters of John and Steve seem to represent different ways of coping with trauma. What message do you hope to convey through their stories?

TC: I represented the way people deal with trauma very differently in the characters John and Steve. This was that John bottles up his emotions, refuses to get help from the doctors, only exposing himself to his wife Liz his support mechanism but is often taking out his frustration on her. As opposed to Steve, who lives alone but seeks regular help from the hospital or the vodka bottle as his only support mechanisms. This allows lots of heartfelt dialogue from other characters to each of them.

‘Bottling things up never works out in the end’ 

‘You’re both going through an awful lot but you’re both in completely different boats and there’s no shame in asking for a bit of help if you feel yours is sinking a bit.’

‘Every scar is beautiful. Every scar tells a story. You’ll look back on this scar when you’re there living your best life and it will be a reminder that yeah there has been some dark times but you got through it, so don’t ever feel ashamed of something that just shows you have been through a journey.’

‘Take your time, this disease will pass Steve. You’ll get through this. I’m not saying any of it’s gonna be easy like, and yeah there might still be bad days, but you’ve got so many people who are there to support you. Always remember that.’

The pair form a friendship over a shared traumatic experience and help each other through the hard days. By doing this, 97+ encourages men to talk and adds a huge premise to promoting support for males mental health. I included these heartfelt messages in the play for audiences to know that if they too are suffering whether they are open about their problem like Steve, or try to hide it like John, there is always a solution to problems, a way out, support.

Liverpool Noise: How important was it for you to highlight the ongoing fight for justice by the Hillsborough survivors in “97+”?

TC: I felt it was massively important for people to learn the history and timeline of the Hillsborough Disaster. The trauma that Hillsborough caused for so many people isn’t just from the day itself but the aftermath and the ongoing fight for justice. 97+ explain why Hillsborough has been back in the news again, why we must never forget and why this needs to dispel victim chanting in todays game.

We can learn from the attempted cover up of the Hillsborough Disaster to ensure this never happens again. Take the bottle neck crowd filtering for champions league night in Paris for example, if Liverpool fans didn’t help each other it could’ve been another disaster. I know the HSA have done a lot of work with the Grenfell Tower survivors to ensure history does not repeat itself in the cover up.

Liverpool Noise: What do you hope audiences will take away from experiencing “97+” and how do you believe it contributes to the ongoing conversation surrounding Hillsborough?

TC: Hillsborough is always such a sensitive topic around the world, both from the hard hitting memory it serves for those who were there that day and the ongoing fight for justice that continued many years later. The false version of events that paper printed back then has left Liverpool with a tarnished reputation. Hillsborough continuing to be back in the news over the years from the ongoing fight for justice has made away fans at Anfield shouting slurs along the lines of ‘oh here we go again’ and ‘Always the victim’ a demonstration of victim chanting.

97+ aims to educate audiences on the truth of Hillsborough, raise awareness for survivors still suffering from their trauma and help to end all victim chanting.

12 April 2024
Liverpool Olympia


Founder and Editor, Clare Deane, shares her passion for all the amazing things happening in Liverpool. With a love of the local Liverpool music scene, dining out a couple of times a week and immersing herself in to all things arts and culture she's in a pretty good place to create some Liverpool Noise.

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