Reviewed by David Walters
Operation Crucible is an historical fiction.
It’s 1940 in Sheffield, England. WWII is in full swing in Great Britain, having declared war on Germany the year before. Bob (Salvatore D’Aguila), Tommy, (Kieran Knowles), Phil (Christopher McCurry) and Andrew (James Wallwork) work in the Sheffield iron works (the crucible and stainless steel were both invented in Sheffield). They are “priority workers” in “protected professions” needed to stay home and work in the factory to support the war effort. Soldiers at home, which suits them just fine.
The Blitzkrieg of England is occurring almost nightly and the daily precautions and restrictions of living during this time are shared solo in short monologues and together in exquisitely timed group speak, along with the magical moments of their lives that make it worth living no matter the circumstances.
The story introduces the life, lives and loves of these four men, discussing their work in the mill, how they got to the iron works, their families, their bomb shelter plans, their football preferences, their pride in being from Sheffield, revealing who these lads are as co-workers and friends.
Playwright Kieran Knowles has molded and formed a fine piece of theater that shares with its audience not only this moment in time, but a doorway into the lives of the people who inhabited it. Delivered staccato, but melding together into musicality, the wonderfully crafted dialogue of the play reflects friendships of people knowing each other for a long period of time and riffing off of that familiarity in shared experience. This spitfire exchange touches on poetry at times and draws the listener in to the language and the people delivering it.
The play culminates in one December night as the moon was waxing, the German planes flying overhead are not carrying their payloads to other locals this evening, but instead empty their bellies on Sheffield (at one point in the play there is a poignant recognition that they too are making bombs to drop on the Germans). As they are running home to their families, the four seek shelter in the basement of the Marples hotel, a posh well-built establishment with patrons enjoying their evening oblivious to the sirens and bombs falling on the city. Seeking refuge in an arched storage room in the cellar, the hotel gets a direct hit, pancakes and collapses on top of them. They are trapped in a coffin for four not knowing if they will ever be rescued. At this point the familial repartee stops and each one retreats into his own head filled with his own fears and reminiscences. A sharp and revealing contrast to the other moments of the play.
Operation Crucible is a compelling story of these four men, sure not to leave you untouched.
Kudos to Bryony Shanahan (director); the ensemble works together in an undulating, unanimous, unison, effortlessly flowing from one segment to the next (excuse the alliteration, but it is authentically apropos).
I believe that we humans seek out art to make sense of our lives, to be opened and infected in some profound way. You will be by Operation Crucible.
On the nights of December 12 and 15, 1940, the German Luftwaffe sent 341 planes and bombed Sheffield. 660 people were killed (over 70 in the Marples Hotel), 1,500 injured and 40,000 made homeless.
- A ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.
- A situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new
- The German name for the Sheffield Blitz: Schmelztiegel (“Crucible”).
WITH: Salvatore D’Aguila (Bob), Kieran Knowles (Tommy), Christopher McCurry (Phil) and James Wallwork (Andrew)
Sets and Coustumes by Sophia Simensky; lighting by Seth Rook Williams; sound by Daniel Foxsmith
Performing at the Davenport Theater, November 15 – December 23, 2018. Running time: 85 minutes. Show Times: Tuesday-Saturday @8pm, Saturday & Sunday @2:30pm and 7pm
Tickets can be purchased HERE