Pros: Expertly staged & directed, emotionally charged subject matter presented very intelligently.
Cons: Wasn’t really a con for me but if you happen to find yourself sitting in the front row be ready to have the action right up in your face!
Over the last few years I have heard so many good things about the Finborough Theatre but have never gotten around to going. Turns out these were wasted years and, after hearing about it for the first time, I should have been going to the Finborough at every possible opportunity. I certainly will from now on; officially I am a Finborough super-fan. The Theatre’s artistic policy aims to showcase ‘vibrant new writing and unique re-discoveries’. It presents plays and musical theatre which are exclusively either new writing or rediscovered works from the 19th and 20th century which have slipped into obscurity. This is a great mission and the world premiere of Operation Crucible, written by newcomer Kieran Knowles, certainly fitted this bill perfectly.
Set against the backdrop of 1940’s Sheffield, Operation Crucible, tells the story of four ordinary men in extraordinary times. Arthur, Bob, Tommy & Phil all work in Sheffield’s world famous steel works, the heartland of Britain’s crucial munitions manufacturing during the second world war. On the evening of the 12th December, 1940 more than six hundred people lost their lives during a 7 hour bout of strategic bombing from the German Luftwaffe targeting the factories. Following the attack, all four men ended up trapped together under the rubble of a collapsed seven story luxury hotel in the centre of town, only to be rescued hours later.
The new play recounts the stories of the personal and collective experiences of each man from that fateful evening. It comes in layered prose, in past and present tenses, narrated from all four perspectives. Covering growing up in Sheffield, working together in the factory, knowingly contributing essential work to the war effort, and living & loving under constant fear of air attack. It paints a powerful picture of the unique impact of the Second World War on Sheffield.
It is an excellent piece of writing which channels a harrowing episode in our collective history into a witty, poignant and infinitely relatable new play. The thoughts, feelings and motivations of all four men are eloquently expressed with clever use of figurative language. The characters are developed cleverly to illustrate the strong bonds between the men and their boundless capacity for making the best of things during dark times.
The staging from Bryony Shanahan & From Ground Up Theatre Company, in the tiny but perfectly formed black space of the Finborough, consists of literally just 4 men and a few stools. As it’s a new piece of writing it’s performed on the built set of another play. Yet, with some simple lighting and sound effects, it is inventively and thoughtfully directed. So much so that anything more would have made it felt overdone and for 80 full minutes I did not need anything but the four actors and few stools, creatively directed, to keep my attention rapt.
The performances from all four actors, including Keiran Knowles (the writer), are pretty flawless and on more than one occasion I had to discreetly wipe away a few tears as the action played out. There is some very accomplished choral work to demonstrate the danger, chaos and monotony of the factory work. One, quite insincere, word of warning would be that choosing to sit in the front row is potentially a little hazardous. The intimacy of the space means that at certain points the actors are very much up in your face; stools and all – but for me this just made it more enjoyable and effective.
On the verge of 2014, a year marking the First World War centenary, we should certainly not just remember, but also look to the future and ruminate on the effects of all types of war, past and present. Operation Crucible is definitely a well-executed expression of this. You should catch it at the Finborough while you can.
Author: Kieran Knowles
Director: Bryony Shanahan
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2013/operation-crucible.php
Booking Until: 17th December 2013