Operation Crucible at the Finborough
It’s 12th December, 1940 in Sheffield. Dark and cold, a low hum of enemy aircraft invades the winter night sky. The hum rises to a deafening ring, whizzing overhead as bombs drop onto the heart of the city. Factories, cinemas, dancehalls and schools crumble to rubble and dust. Thick smoke billows from the embers. Debris flutters on the breeze, its edges glowing orange-red like fireflies. Four men recount their lives in the lead up to that tragic evening, when more than 700 people died and over 1000 were injured during the German Luftwaffe’s blitz on England’s famous steel production city.
Arthur (Salvatore D’Aquilla), Bob (Paul Tinto), Tommy (Kieran Knowles) and Phil (James Wallwork) work together in Sheffield’s metalworks. “Bang, bang, turn, brush” they chorus, as they turn, carry and hammer imaginary sheets of steel. Their sepia coloured clothing – tattered, dotted with holes and adorned with muddied white scarves – transports the audience to industrial England. The minimal decor – a washed brown backboard, a sole hanging lightbulb and a few worn-down stools – tells of a time when impoverishment was rife, when communities came together to survive the war.
Knowles’ ability, not only as an actor but as a playwright, to reflect the minds and souls of people in the heart of the steel industry amid the Second World War is admirable. Conversations and fleeting monologues that flit between past and present narrate the four men’s lives, hopes and dreams, right up to that fateful evening when, trapped beneath the collapsed Marples Hotel, they must endure the longest hours of their lives.
However, despite the clever and beautiful writing, and insight into industrial Sheffield life, one wonders if Knowles tried to pack too much in. It’s difficult to get to know any of the characters in depth, and none develops in such a way that the audience cares about him as an individual. Too pacey at times, the piece is at its most beautiful when Knowles’ writing takes centre stage. When all is still, the narrative overcomes, affecting the audience with eruptions of emotion: “Heat from the blast singed the skin off their faces and burnt the clothes from their bodies.” If there were more moments like this, then perhaps a few more tears would fall.
Operation Crucible is on at Finborough Theatre from 28th July until 22nd August 2015, for further information or to book visit here.