A mother and father, a couple of sons, a daughter and a prospective daughter-in-law. One family in one sitting room. Two weeks. Not any two weeks, though… ‘Those Two Weeks’. By Paul Fitzgerald.

Award-winning Liverpool playwright Ian Salmon’s latest production, ‘Those Two Weeks’, recently played four hugely successful nights at the Unity Theatre, each ending with a thunderous standing ovation. The play details life in the Miller family home in the fortnight leading up to April 15th 1989. This is not, the author stressed, a play about Hillsborough… rather, it looks at the family dynamic, its strength and fragilities, the tight bonds and raw divisions of any family scene, seen in light of the lead up to that devastating day.

That delicate balance of love, so all encompassing and breathtaking in it first flushes, can all too easily dissipate and crumble, eventually needing to be rebuilt and strengthened. It is this which forms the frame for this most powerful and emotive piece of theatre. It may be about the Millers, but it could be about any of us, any family in Liverpool at that time, in those two weeks. Before everything changed. The last time life in Liverpool could be considered normal.

The play opens with an intriguing prologue from an unnamed character, played by Lisa McMahon, laying the foundations of the story and drawing us into the Millers’ sitting room, and into their lives for the next fortnight. This lays an air of suspense across the entire play. We know what’s coming, but the Miller family doesn’t. We don’t see this character again until the very last scene, closing the play with a speech of such power, depth and devastation, it left the stunned audience breathless and exhausted.

Joe Miller dreams. He has a new girlfriend, Sue. He dreams of them growing old together, like his mum and dad. She’s an outsider in more than one sense, though. Not only is she not a member of the family, but worse, she’s an Evertonian! Joe wants to go to university, wants to be an architect, and more than anything, he wants to go to the FA Cup semi-final. He’s hoping his annoying, but savvy and well connected, younger brother Pete will land him a ticket. Mr and Mrs Miller, meanwhile, have their own issues… deep seated and long festering which could rip their relationship apart at any moment. The kind of issues long since put to the back of their minds, daring to be exposed.

It is an impossible itch, just waiting to be scratched, and the more its cast to the back of their minds, the more impact it will have when the inevitable catalyst happens. That catalyst is brought about in explosive fashion by the news that daughter Jackie is expecting the child of her now ex-boyfriend. Everything changes… forever. Weaknesses are exposed and its up to the whole family to fill these cracks, to create a new union based on a new found honesty, based on forgiveness, and most importantly, based on a deep rooted love.

The play gathers pace throughout – towards that fateful, awful day – thanks to the superb and sensitive direction of Mike Dickinson, and while the members of the Miller family face the demons that many families face, there is deep unity between them, displayed beautifully both in the writing and the acting. Special note must go here to the cast, who portrayed the story so empathetically with such sensitivity and grace. There was a true and warm naturality between them in the way they treated Salmon’s wonderful script. The dynamics of the script, the tension and expectation, and its fond, humorous depictions of family life, were perfectly handled by this skilled and richly talented cast.

It is a true challenge to so sensitively touch upon the impact of the events of April 15th 1989, but this piece manages to do just that so very well, in a way that is touching and deeply respectful. This was far too short a run for such an important piece of work.

Follow playwright Ian Salmon to find out what’s coming next @IanRSalmon

Pic courtesy Unity Theatre Liverpool