Rachael Mutch was only eight years old when she felt a strange sense of panic developing among her Liverpool FC-loving family one Saturday afternoon in 1989.The next thing she remembers is her cousin Karen in a neck collar and a policewoman being in the house.
It was only much later that Rachael learned that Karen had survived the horrific crush at Hillsborough Stadium and that her dad and another cousin had also been at the match. In fact, Rachael’s dad is one of the people seen carrying victims off the pitch on makeshift stretchers in the now infamous footage from the day. Now an artist and teacher, Rachael has developed a theatrical performance, 96/27, which looks at the personal impact of the disaster in an effort to tell her family’s story and show how the arts can be used to raise awareness of mental illness.
Rachael, who graduated from Edge Hill with a First Class degree in Visual Theatre in 2016, said:
“Being only eight I wasn’t sure what was happening at the time, but it soon became apparent that Karen had been badly affected by the disaster, not so much physically as mentally. She was only 17 years old when it happened. Over the years she spoke about it to me only when I asked but never in great detail and, because of the lies that the media had spread, she had become marginalised and couldn’t really speak about what had happened freely to anybody else. Karen was clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and I knew I needed to tell her story to give her some sense of relief from it.”
Rachael created a verbatim piece from Karen’s account of her experiences for her dissertation, which developed into 96/27 (96 for the number who died, 27 for the years it took to get justice), the one-woman show she performed recently at On the Verge, an arts festival dedicated to supporting and showcasing provocative new work in unusual places and spaces, across the city of Liverpool.
A moving and visceral piece that was made possible an Arts Council grant, 96/27 was performed in a cramped changing room that only accommodated 20 people, creating an intense and immersive experience. Using a powerful combination spoken word and YouTube videos, the play communicates how the aftermath of a traumatic experience can cause mental health issues and asks the question ‘can storytelling start the healing process for people with PTSD? ’
“Creating the piece filled me with a sense of pride,” said Rachael. “To be able to help Karen by telling her story was all I ever wanted to do. She came to watch every performance and after each one her confidence grew and grew – to see this transformation over such a short period of time was amazing. My dad came to watch too, and for him to see what his niece went through in the pen that day helped him to open up and talk to Karen about the disaster, which they had never done before.”
Rachael’s training for mental health and suicide awareness that she received at Edge Hill drove her to combine the arts with mental health as a vehicle to help others. She said:
“Creating 96/27 made me realise that storytelling can really help to reduce mental stress and it is something I will be continuing with in the future.”
Rachael is currently the Curriculum Lead for the BTEC in Acting at Liverpool Media Academy, and is also a part of Confianca Collaborative Theatre Company, an Edge Hill alumni theatre company, allowing her to continue her passion for performing.
“I’m hoping to do some more performances around the time of the Hillsborough anniversary,” added Rachael. “I am always looking for new places to perform and I’m open to exploring different avenues and ways that I can make sure this important story is told.”