Hello again! This blog was written for Sheffield Theatres about Operation Crucible.
Operation Crucible tells the story of four steel workers who become trapped in the basement of Sheffield’s Marples Hotel which was bombed during the winter of 1940. The Crucible’s Studio space becomes the workers’ foundry and their prison. Although the story of the workers is fictionalised, the emotions behind it are unequivocally human and real.
Kieran Knowles’ debut play is fast paced and combines physical theatre with energetic dialogue. The four male characters’ camaraderie is formed within the foundry and remains unbreakable even with football rivalries, and this provides a great deal of good-natured teasing. However the moments of stillness throughout the play cut through this and remind the audience why this story is being told. The lighting effects are superb and cut very quickly from bright flashbacks to the darkness and silence of being trapped with only candlelight to see. The audio track of falling rubble and bombs in the distance also emphasises the claustrophobic nature of being buried and makes the long silences all the more deafening. The audience are reached out to and engaged directly by being brought into the story from the very start through the characters’ reflections on Sheffield’s industrial heritage. The sparse set allows the actors to become everyone and everything they encounter – the machines within the foundry and the people working within them. The actors themselves become Sheffield. The play is as much a celebration of Sheffield’s industrial heritage as it is a lament for those who lost their lives within the Blitz. The title, Operation Crucible, takes its name from the German codename for the strategic bombing of Sheffield and other cities known for their munitions factories. These characters’ professions were protected because of their importance to the war effort and this is addressed within the play as the men contemplate whether or not they would have wanted to join the army. However the play does not just focus on the impact on the male workers; the women of steel also have their moment. Their scene highlights how the foundry was incredibly important for everyone who lived in Sheffield and how the women were just as capable at their jobs as the men. The teasing, fast dialogue continues right through. Operation Crucible is a play that at its heart celebrates the strength of Sheffield to carry on in spite of adversity.
Funnily enough, the play premiered in the Finborough theatre in London before coming to Sheffield, which saw the play receiving different reactions from the audiences and humour being found in different places. Sheffield is a proud city and this sentiment carries out into the audience; most of whom are from Sheffield and were either alive or knew someone alive during the Blitz. The human experiences told build and gather momentum throughout the play and so the audience become totally invested in the lives of these four men. Operation Crucible received a standing ovation from the audience and it is an emotive piece of theatre that everyone living in or from Sheffield should definitely go see.
As young ambassadors, we had the privilege of meeting the cast – Salvatore D’Aquilla, Kieran Knowles, Paul Tinto and James Wallwork – for a Q&A session after the performance. This was really interesting because we were able to hear in detail about the research process for the production and how the storylines of the characters changed from men who were unable to go to war because of medical reasons after finding the story of the Marples hotel and how steel workers’ professions were protected. It became important to tell this story as Sheffield was beginning to forget its own history and this was the biggest loss of life on a single night within the city. The steel heart of Sheffield beats once again as this significant event in the history of the city is relived through the eyes of ordinary working men and tells the story of Sheffield’s industrial heritage.