This is theatre at its simplest and finest. Operation Crucible cleverly tells the life stories of four ironworkers who are all headed to the same fate: to be buried alive under rubble during a WWII German air raid on Sheffield. On December 12,1940, a single bomb reduced the luxurious Marples Hotel, where they were hidden, from seven stories to just 15 feet of rubble. Only one of the ten compartments in the hotel’s cellars withstood the blast. Trapped within it were four men. This is their story, from beginning to end…
Part of the 2018 Brits Off Broadway season at 59E59 Theaters, Operation Crucible is a powerful US premiere of a well written and superbly acted play. Byrony Shanahan, who holds Artistic Director positions at both the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Snuff Box Theatre in Manchester, sensitively brings to life a beautifully choreographed exploration of masculinity, working class pride, and the consequences of war on your doorstep.
Operation Crucible is set on a simple stage with only a raised platform, sheet metal walls, a single hanging lamp and prophetic smoke curling in its rays. It is really the actors who expertly use their physicality to create each location in the play. Their choreographed movement takes us from the factory to the dance floor, from the bomb shelter to the football stadium with charming precision. The teamwork required heightens the closeness between the four friends but also creates a sense of awe at the capacity of the actors.
Written by Kieran Knowles, it is exciting to see the playwright bring to life his own words on stage as an actor. He uses layered language so each man equally crafts their reality as they help each other tell the story to the audience. He also brings to life a myriad of supporting female characters (also played by the four actors). It is a pleasure to hear those Sheffield accents- they are strong and true to life! Kieran Knowles, Salvator D’Aquila, Christopher McCurry Phil and James Wallwork are masters of their craft and perfectly suited for these roles.
It really does feel like 1940s England on that stage, and it’s partly due to the understated but brilliant costuming by Sophia Simensky, who also designed the set, which explains why they so seamlessly fit together. Also bearing mention is the smart and subtle lighting and sound design. Seth Rook-William’s lighting gently guides your focus throughout the show, and it is his use of darkness that has your hair raised at crucial moments. The same could be said of Dan Foxsmith whose haunting piano perfectly underscores the emotional life of the play while devastating the audience with his sound bombs. The teamwork is visible both onstage and off.
Operation Crucible is the great show for any history buff or student of humanity or British culture. Originally, I questioned the need for this kind of story to be explored again, but it’s expertly done, so be prepared for emotions – I was crying too hard to join in the standing O they richly deserved. Operation Crucible is definitely worth the $25-35 it takes to secure a ticket.