DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Operation Crucible – Studio Theatre, Sheffield

Reviewer: Sheila Stratford

Writer:  Kieran Knowles

Director: Bryony Shanahan

‘Bang, bang, turn, brush’, the sound of skilled Sheffield men at work in the roaring heat of the steel mills. It is 1940 and they are proud of the city’s steel production helping in the war effort. Operation Crucible explores the emotions of four steel workers. The banter, the camaraderie, pride in their work and their secret fears and worries as they face the war effort together.

Four different characters with their stories cleverly interwoven by the playwright Kieran Knowles.  The script is at times like poetry, Sheffield poetry. Through a series of vignettes, insight is gained into their personalities. There is Bob (Salvatore D’Aquilla) the young apprentice that the older men enjoy ribbing. Fellow worker, Irishman Phil (Chris McCurry) full of wit and humour but with profound worries for the safety of his new born child and concerns that people may think him a coward. Arthur (James Wallwork) who remembers going to the factory as a lad, with haunting memories of his father who died in the First World War. And finally, there is Tommy (Kieran Knowles also the writer) the older man and devotee of Sheffield’s beloved football teams.

At the end of this one act play these four ordinary men find themselves trapped in a cellar of the Marples Hotel in Fitzalan Square. A bombing raid hits Sheffield city centre and demolishes the seven-story hotel on top of them. How do these men cope? Does their bravado carry them through? Even at the darkest time can there be humour? All the characters are totally plausible and convincingly generate empathy for their plight.

The director, Bryony Shanahan has done a superb job. The play is quick paced and jumps from one action to the next. There are no props but a picture of rolling steel and hot furnaces, Sheffield women of steel in action, the excitement of a football match, fresh air on the top of Sheffield hills, all these diverse scenes are convincing and cleverly generated on the small compact Studio stage. The movement and energy of the characters working together, combined by excellent lighting design by Seth Rook-Williams transports the audience from the fiery steel works, to the depth of the bomb struck cellar.

The standing ovation from the Sheffield audience at the end of the play was truly deserved. The story of these four ordinary men generates both pride in Sheffield and a certain nostalgia.

Runs until 25th  September 2021

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  1. Amazing. Saw the play tonight. Fast paced, on point, made me proud to be born in Sheffield. Well done 👏

  2. I saw this show tonight with my husband. It was amazing and fast paced. It was a little upsetting in places but also thankfully at times, there was enough humour to overshadow that. The four actors were outstanding. I was with them every step of the way.

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