Sheffield show about wartime tragedy makes hugely successful return to Crucible stage
Sheffield wartime story Operation Crucible has made a triumphant return to the Crucible Studio.
The play, featuring four actors, keeps it simple to tell the real-life story of the worst single tragedy of the night of the Sheffield Blitz in December 1940. The Marples Hotel on Fitzalan Square, only a few minutes’ walk from the theatre, was obliterated by a Nazi bomb, killing an estimated 77 people sheltering in its cellars during the air raid that turned the city centre into an inferno.
The story is told through the eyes of a close-knit group of steelworkers trapped in the Marples who look back at their working and home lives and everything that bonds them together.
Writer Kieran Knowles, who also plays Tommy, beautifully intertwines the stories and the actors vividly recreate them, using only minimal props. The evening is full of warmth and the foursome (completed by Sheffielder Salvatore D’Aquilla, Chris McCurry and James Wallwork) deftly switch the mood from laughter to tears in a moment, never missing a beat for the whole show.
There are plenty of Sheffield references to enjoy, including the inevitable Blades-Owls football rivalry, and steelworks life is vividly recreated, with a nod to the Women of Steel. The men’s pride in their work and their city is evident throughout.
I have followed this play for several years and it is a brilliant piece of theatre that also won the approval of the New York Times when it appeared in a small festival in that city, leading to an extended sell-out run there.
It will almost certainly be this show’s final appearance in Sheffield with this cast, so don’t miss out. Operation Crucible is at the Crucible Studio until Saturday, September 25. Tickets: go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk, call 0114 249 6000 or visit the Crucible box office.
Coming right up to date, Sheffield’s Blowfish Theatre present Boris the Musical 3: The Johnson Supremacy at Theatre Deli on Eyre Street on September 23-25.
The satirical show with songs is described as “next tragicomic instalment in Britain’s political nervous breakdown”.
Writer Laurence Peacock said that the show moves from the 2019 general election to Covid Britain.
"He added: If you’d said five years ago that we’d left the European Union and then Boris Johnson won an election by a huge majority and Labour were unelectable with people, even without Corbyn, you’d say ‘tell me how we got there’.”
Laurence said he has learned a lot over the years in writing the three shows. “When I’m sitting down and looking at the last year and thinking what to include and what not to include, I’m surprised at how much I've forgotten.
“Something will happen and people will say ‘are you going to include that?’ I say ‘if you’re going to remind me about it in a month’.”
One unforgettable issue is Covid, of course. Laurence said he’s had to think carefully about that because it’s been such an emotional time for everyone and the point is to have a laugh.
Step forward, Dominic Cummings, with his infamous eye-testing car ride to Barnard Castle and his power struggles involving Johnson’s wife Carrie Symonds.
“When the trip to Durham happened, that was a gift,” said Laurence. “When you think about what to include, the squalid personal squabbles make for a great show.”
He said everyone comes off badly, including Labour leader Keir Starmer, played by Natasha Lanceley.
Matt Hancock also makes an appearance, with a reference to that excruciating TV interview outside a hospital when he got uncomfortably close to a woman standing next to him.
Laurence said that composer and musical director Dominic Lo has written some great songs, such as Getting Brexit Done and Chancer.
He said of the show: “People should come to see it if they want laugh-out-loud songs and a cathartic giggle at these bizarre times in which we live.
“You might find that the person sitting alongside you is laughing just as hard at the same things. You might just feel a little bit better about the world.”
Just like the Crucible, Theatre Deli has Covid measures in place to make people feel safe about sitting in a theatre together, as well as to protect staff.