by Kieran Knowles.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 22 August 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
www.finbooroughtheatre.co.uk (no booking fee by ’phone or online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 August.
Essential theatre: script, direction, acting all superb with no frills or distractions.
Five rivers flowing into a valley begot the city of Sheffield and its steel industry, which made it a target for World War II German bombers. On 12 December 1940 they blitzed the place, including Fitzalan Square (near where the Crucible Theatre would be built 31 years later). A department store was hit, so was the bar in Marples Hotel, leading people to take refuge in the hotel’s basement.
Then a direct hit toppled the seven storey hotel, trapping 77 people. 70 died, 7 were rescued – one walking away, but so traumatised he killed himself the following year (as does one of the characters here).
Kieran Knowles’ assured first play shows four steel-workers – three native Sheffielders, one married into the city – trapped by the Marples bomb. It’s both intensely real and dreamlike, catching the strangeness and urgency of the situation. Bryony Shanahan’s spare production reflects this against designer Sophia Simensky’s three huge vertical plates – steel-like yet abstract.
No other sets, no props. The actors create the tough process of wielding molten metal, and moments of fun or threat with workplace banter or fear of the sack. Knowles voices their lives too as time and events seem simultaneously solid and fluid.
He uses brief, economic sentences; these people don’t use unnecessary words. Characters take ideas from each other, at times becoming a split-voiced chorus and working community, at other times standing-out as individuals, so their whole lives seem to flash before us as lines often ricochet around the stage.
The bomb falls amid this sense of a community and its continuity; “Me Dad knew everyone, and they all knew about me,” says Arthur of being taken to the factory as a child. Sheffield’s two soccer teams are inevitably part of this life, shattered as the men take refuge in a hotel they’d never normally enter. Just as the audience finds itself listening to voices in the dark.
It’s disorientating but involving. With writing so tightly-constructed, precise direction and acting that catches the tough physical life and the sound of Sheffield voices with rare accuracy it could hardly be anything else.
Arthur: James Wallwork.
Bob: Salvatore D’Aquila.
Tommy: Kieran Knowles.
Phil: Paul Tinto.
Director: Bryony Shanahan.
Designer: Sophia Simensky.
Lighting: Seth Rook Williams.
Sound: Dan Foxsmith.