Review: Operation Crucible cast took us through a vivid Sheffield history in just 75 minutes

This fantastic minimalist production set during the Sheffield Blitz returned home for a belated 80th anniversary of the event.

By Steven Ross
Friday, 10th September 2021, 3:09 pm
Operation Crucible returns to Sheffield this month, in a delayed commemoration marking 80 years since the Sheffield Blitz.
Operation Crucible returns to Sheffield this month, in a delayed commemoration marking 80 years since the Sheffield Blitz.

The first row of the audience were sat less than four feet from the stage. The cast of four had no props besides four stools, a book of matches, and some sweat towels.

There was nowhere for the cast to hide, and no room for mistakes in this fast-talking heartfelt story which brought a piece of local history to life.

Operation Crucible, based on the play by Kieran Knowles, recounts the experiences of four steel mill workers who became trapped in the cellar of the Marples Hotel when it was bombed during the Blitz.

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STOCK: Sheffield at night, The Crucible Theatre.

Through clever use of lighting, the production builds a claustrophobic atmosphere – a significant part of the show is performed in near or total darkness. And with no fourth wall – the cast speak to us – we are invited to share in their small world.

The cast bounce off each other brilliantly and each character brings something crucial to the piece. Salvatore D’Aquila’s Bob is the comic relief for this tragic tale.

Chris McCurry was a stand out as Phil, a fantastic character study in guilt and regret. James Wallwork plays Arthur and writer Kieran Knowles is Tommy.

Together the cast are an energetic synchronised group, the dialogue flies around the stage at bullet speed, and if you’re not quick you’ll miss the wry humour.

The play is set in December 1940 and was written in 2013, yet it has a timeless quality and speaks to a post-pandemic audience in a way it may not have had the power to do before.

Four co-workers find themselves cut off from the outside world, trapped, with no idea of when they will ever get out again, and what their world will look like if they do.

At the plays’ heart is the comradeship between these four men who have relied on each other every day at the mill and continue to do so when buried under 15 feet of rubble.

In 75 minutes the cast take us through a vivid Sheffield history from Owlerton Stadium to Fitzalan Square, and they pack in pathos, infuriating irony, and plenty of much needed British humour.

Operation Crucible runs until September 25.