Pride in a steel city tarnished by lost jobs

Finetime Fontayne in the title role in Jack Steele and Family
Finetime Fontayne in the title role in Jack Steele and Family
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Jack Steele and Family, Crucible

One of John Godber’s hit plays was Happy Jack but this Jack has a tough time on his 70th birthday.

His two sons, who aren’t talking to each other for reasons that might spoil the plot to reveal, have booked the steelworks he was made redundant from in the 1980s as the venue for his party. It is now a novelty venue for corporate events and training.

In a running joke, several characters wonder why they didn’t book Baldwin’s Omega.

The venue brings good and bad memories flooding back. There is a righteous anger as well at all the lives that were ruined when Margaret Thatcher – whose funeral takes place on the same day – and “that Canadian b*****d” took decisions that decimated the industry that gave the city its pride.

The simmering resentment between the brothers finally breaks out and threatens to ruin the night completely.

Godber has produced an excellent piece of work that pays tribute to Sheffield’s long association with steel without making it sound like a dry history lesson.

He is aided by an excellent cast, led by Finetime Fontayne in a tour-de-force performance.

His sons represent two sides to the city’s present – academic Nick (Robert Angell) loves the city but has no time for his dad’s stories.

Chris (Ian Reddington) is a shady businessman who has lots of property deals in the city but can hardly bear to step foot in it.

Susan Cookson isn’t given enough to do as Nick’s wife Louise, which is a real shame.

Students from Hallam University, which commissioned the piece to celebrate a century of stainless steel, comment on events while working as the bar staff.

Some of the business they do changing the tables to portray different times in the evening takes too long.

The second half doesn’t work as well as the first but this is still a powerful piece of theatre.