Writer: Chris Bush
Music: Richard Taylor
Director: Daniel Evans
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
The mediaeval tradition of Mystery plays, in which Bible stories are brought to life by singers and actors, has come to Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, and been given a modern twist and a local South Yorkshire flavour. Over a hundred actors and musicians are engaged in bringing this Sheffield People’s Theatre production, written by Chris Bush, to the stage. The result, which took three months of hard work, is astonishing on many levels. Literally many levels, given that the set is a multi-level, multi-entrance, multi-purpose structure which serves the work admirably. But astonishing too in terms of its scope, pace, scale and dynamism. A variety of theatrical forms and devices are used to convey the story, and director Daniel Evans must take great credit for achieving a production of such a high standard.
The epic work begins with a gathering of buskers, who introduce the main musical motif of a beautiful and haunting score by Richard Taylor, which recurs regularly in different forms. We move to the seven hills of Sheffield, where the creation and fall of the city is argued over and enunciated by angelic mechanicals before the Adam and Eve story is re-invented by schoolchildren. Towards the end of act one, from Creation to Nativity, the full company appears on stage together, for two spectacular numbers that leave the senses reeling. Act two covers, among other things, The Last Supper and Crucifixion, while poking a sly dig at local MP Nick Clegg, in a story of dodgy politics and regional development. This act also ends with the full company working as one, to magical effect.
The set is a grassy sward divided by a path of leaves, behind which is a structure of grassy slopes. There are more entrance and exit routes to and from the stage than in a typical play and the Crucible’s huge space accommodates the busy, brisk production admirably. With trap doors popping open and actors appearing and even dangling, from here, there and everywhere, one never quite knows where the action is going to come from next. It is as if maestro Evans has decided to showcase the Crucible itself alongside the vibrant spirit of the people of Sheffield. In this context, Gary Longfield’s lighting design works very well to delineate the different theatrical spaces.
The ten musicians, who perform below the stage, do a marvellous and often subtle job of rendering crisp musical backings and creating atmosphere. Acting performances by the almost one hundred-strong cast of local people are of a very high standard, with great stage presence – and heart and conviction – in evidence wherever you look. Some of the younger performers are particularly strong, which bodes well for the future of The Sheffield Theatres, hopefully.
The energy of the work is intoxicating but there is also plenty of humour, pathos and sharp observation to enjoy. Daniel Evans has captured the pulsating heartbeat of the local community in this venture and it does him and the Crucible proud. This show is worth seeing for its sheer audacity but when one adds up all the winning elements that make up this memorable production, one can only implore anyone without a ticket to ring the box office ASAP to see if there are any left.
Runs until: 19th July