In November 2011, as part of the Crucible’s 40th anniversary celebrations, the inaugural production from Sheffield People’s Theatre, Lives In Art, was held. It was a joyous celebration of the power of theatre and art and demonstrated Sheffield Theatres’ strong links with its local community. Now, 18 months on, the People’s Theatre has returned to the Crucible, this time in the more intimate Studio space, to present 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield.
As the title may suggest, this is an anthology of 20 short plays inspired by and about the Steel City. Performed entirely by volunteers and directed by Sheffield Theatres’ Creative Producer Andrew Loretto, it features a 60-strong cast aged between 12 and 85. The list of writers involved includes DC Moore, whose recent play, Straight, premiered in the Crucible Studio last year, Tim Etchells of Forced Entertainment, Kate O’Reilly and Stephanie Street.
All have contributed pieces which touch on an aspect of local life: industry, sports, the arts and politics. As with most multi-authored works of this type, the quality and tone of the plays varies considerably but the brevity of each play prevents this from being too much of an issue: if the experimental piece involving choreographed movement and the shouting out of news headlines doesn’t float your boat, a beautifully observed little vignette about local community shops will follow soon enough. And if that too doesn’t do anything for you, there’ll soon be a musical sketch about Sheffield’s many restaurants along shortly.
There’s also a serious thread running throughout these 20 Tiny Plays. The subject of community, and the various shapes it can take, is repeatedly explored, with big business cast as the bogeyman. It’s dealt with most effectively in a funny yet chilling piece about out of town developers selling off various city landmarks, the laughter is underpinned by a sense of unease – this is a scenario is all too easily imagined. The cast are uniformly strong, and though there’s the odd fumbling of a line and some uneven vocal projection, all the performers give warm, witty portrayals of the many characters. The younger cast members are particularly impressive, and special mention needs to be given to the three young boys playing the role of guide dogs in a nicely written piece about the disabled in the community. The cast are also expertly choreographed by movement director Lucy Cullingford.
The space in the Studio is used creatively, the stunning backdrop doubling as a house with windows – which are used to wonderful effect in a touching piece about the unsolved murder of young Sheffield mother Pat Grainger in 1997, and the subsequent campaign by her son to find her killer – and a dancefloor – in a hilarious sketch set in Dempsey’s, one of the city’s most famous gay clubs. The production culminates in an evocative monologue about the demolition of the iconic Tinsley Cooling Towers, the 60-strong cast gathering on-stage to raise one finger in defiance of property developers who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. It’s a potent and suitable conclusion to an entertaining and thoughtful evening, the power of the plays themselves amplified by the passion and enthusiasm of the cast.