Review: Powerful story of Sheffield's wartime steelmen

Operation Crucible at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield
Operation Crucible at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield
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Operation Crucible, Crucible Studio

This show has at last come home after two national tours and it’s great to see it in Sheffield’s premiere theatre at last.

All the action takes places within a couple of miles of Tudor Square and uses as a backdrop the horrendous night of the Sheffield Blitz in December 1940, when the Marples Hotel in Fitzalan Square was bombed with the loss of at least 77 lives instantly, plus more from their injuries.

The show revolves around four fictional steelworkers trapped in the pub’s cellars, sheltering in what was believed to be a safe place while making their way home after emergency klaxons sounded to end their shift.

Kieran Knowles' excellent debut script is staged very simply and the four actors use movement and words, plus minimal lighting and sound effects, to re-create their lives in the factory, showing how the job of steelmaking has forged a strong bond between them.

Various incidents are recounted from their working lives: the teasing of apprentices, injuries at work, the feisty women of steel brought in for wartime work.

There’s also tales of family life, poverty, the changes of war and the city’s legendary football rivalry between Owls and Blades fans.

The parts where the men are trapped under the Marples are created so well, from the initial panic to finding each other in the dark, realising that others have died and the ensuing anger fear and frustration, that you root silently for them to survive.

What this play creates most strongly, though, is the pride of working class men in their work in the steel industry and the city they live in, a pride that once seemed unassailable.

I was so drawn in that it seemed strange to walk the peacetime city’s bustling streets afterwards.

Catch this show before Saturday.