Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
Sarah Crown
Theatre Correspondent
4:00 PM 9th September 2021

Steely Drama Takes Pride Of Place In Sheffield's Crucible

On the 12th December 1940, the German Luftwaffe attempted to eradicate Sheffield’s steelworks from the map, steelworks that hitherto had specialized in the manufacture of cutlery before changing to munitions production.

Inevitably there was extensive damage to the city and its surrounding areas, but specifically the Marples Hotel on Fitzalan Square was reduced from seven storeys to a pile of rubble, trapping four steelworkers.

The merciless attack left Sheffield in ruins – obliterating families, shattering a way of life, and changing the city forever.

What exactly were the Luftwaffe trying to destroy? Most of us can only imagine the processes required to make steel, however, the theatrical depiction of the noise, intense heat and the enormous scale of the processes involved - smelting, forging and manually rolling the red hot metal whilst labouring next to furnaces continually fed coal by men equipped with only hand shovels - was both convincing and true to life.

The power of the repetition of everyday words by ‘steel worker’ actors, ‘turn’, brush’ ‘bang bang’, and 'flip' were a persuasive illustration of the co-ordinated physical strength and teamwork required to safely pour the molten steel to and from the crucible.

Personally, I had to smile at Bob thinking that annealing, an authentic heat treatment process, was known as ‘analing’, but as they say, every day is a school day.

Teamwork and good-natured camaraderie are essential for the foundry process to run smoothly and without accident, the only palpable discord between the four men was whether they supported the ‘Owls’ or the ‘Blades’, Sheffield’s rival football teams.

However, when trapped in the cellar and fearful for themselves and their families, their close bonds formed in the foundry begin to come under strain.

The after effects of the raid on the city of Sheffield were significant: ‘Sheffield’s on fire, it glows orange, like hell, like a furnace, like steel. The streets which were familiar are now just bricks, mortar and flame. My childhood, my home… just a pile of stone,” said one of the performers.

Wartime references to gas masks, rations and hunger along with the queues for the soup kitchen all helped paint a picture of how challenging life became in Sheffield during this period in history.

Bob (Salvatore D’Aquilla) is the youngest of the four and not the brightest button in the box whom we first see as a ‘wet behind the ears’ apprentice being introduced to working life. As still happens today in a manufacturing environment, he was dispatched to the store for a long weight (wait) much to everyone’s amusement.

Arthur (James Wallwork) is the steel backbone of the group whilst Chris McCurry who plays Phil cares deeply for and is protective of his wife and new born son. Kieran Knowles, the writer, takes the part of Tommy the fourth man trapped in the basement of the Marples Hotel.

Whilst the events of that fateful evening are accurate, Bryony Shanahan, the Director, supported by her production team, has brought the drama to life.

The riveting central story of the bombing raid is performed by a strong cast and enhanced by the simple but realistic sound and lighting effects. The small and intimate setting of the Studio Theatre within the Crucible Theatre is a perfect setting, drawing the audience into the chaos, panic and terror felt by the people of Sheffield on that fateful evening.

At its heart Operation Crucible is a play about four ordinary men living in extraordinary times. I shall be going again.

Operation Crucible
Crucible Studio Theatre
Until Saturday 25th September (Thursday and Saturday Matinees)