Reviews NationalSheffield Published 1 February 2019

Review: The Department of Distractions at Sheffield Crucible

25 January - 2 February

…sorry, where were we? John Murphy reviews Third Angel’s detective story about distraction and misdirection.

John Murphy
The Department of Distractions at Sheffield Crucible. Design, Bethany Wells; lighting design, Katharine Williams. Photo: Von Fox Promotions

The Department of Distractions at Sheffield Crucible. Design, Bethany Wells; lighting design, Katharine Williams. Photo: Von Fox Promotions

Sheffield-based Third Angel’s new production is…oh, hang on, do you see that advert up there in the top right hand side of the screen? Just going to click that, back in a minute.

OK, where were we?

Sheffield-based Third Angel’s new production, The Department of Distractions is a…sorry, someone’s just tweeted me a link. Wonder what that’s about? I’ll just have a look.

Ah, I have to say, I love a good video of a dog looking puzzled at its own reflection.

Anyway.

Sorry, as I was saying, Sheffield-based Third Angel’s new production, The Department of Distractions is a powerful look at….wait, there’s a Twitter war kicked off between Owen Jones and Piers Morgan and it’s getting good.

We all get distracted from time to time. It’s understandable, in all honesty, that in this age where every news bulletin seems to announce a fresh horror, we’re all too willing to behave like Dug, the dog from Pixar’s Up who was forever chasing after a new squirrel.  Whether it be rows over vegan sausage rolls, a documentary about some long forgotten 80s boy band, or even just some good old celebrity gossip, is it any wonder that we want something, anything, to distract us from what’s going on?

But what if these distractions were manufactured and placed in our gaze deliberately? And why would they do it? To cheer people up? To deliberately take our attention away from more important matters? And what happens should someone discover their work?

That’s the premise of The Department of Distractions, which presents four people working anonymously in a clandestine bureaucratic organisation who place such glittery, pointless distractions in the eye of the public. Ever wondered who’s ringing that phone box you’ve just walked past? Or who’s invented the latest must-have, yet ultimately time-wasting app? We watch new girl Daphne join the office, and see some of the department’s work, before settling into the meat of the piece.

There’s a clever structure that writers Alexander Kelly and Stacey Sampson have put together here, in which about half an hour into proceedings, the team explain to new recruit Daphne the current project they’re working on, the mysterious disappearance of a traffic and travel announcer on a local radio station. Suddenly, we’re in ‘play within a play’ territory, and what was a fun, quirky little experiment, suddenly becomes dark, intriguing and full of twists.

Bethany Wells’ set is suitably full of distracting little details. It takes a moment to realise, as you enter, that there’s a man tucked up asleep in a sleeping bag under the desk, as you’re too busy looking at the hundreds of Polaroid photos that cover the back wall. Third Angel’s use of sound is inspired too, with the local radio station’s jingle suddenly blaring out to comic effect and Heather Fenoughty’s haunting score subtly playing at effective times.

Stacey Sampson does well with the tricky role of Daphne, the new starter with a few distracting secrets of her own, while Umar Butt shows some excellent comic timing as Paladin. The latter’s character is particularly intriguing, a man who’s lived in his home for over a year but hasn’t yet unpacked, sleeps at the office and watches his cat at home on a special app. You start to wonder what his backstory is, and then realise it’s another clever distracting technique.

Third Angel’s co-founder Rachael Walton and Nick Chambers round off the cast by playing the more senior members of the Department, and both excel at playing multiple roles in the ‘play within a play’ section. At under 90 minutes, this clever, intriguing and and original production never overstays its welcome, and by the time the lights come up, you may well be asking yourself some pertinent questions – such as “why AM I watching that documentary about Bros for the fourth time?”….

The Department of Distractions is at Sheffield Crucible until 2 February. More info here.

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John Murphy

John is the former editor of, and current contributor to, musicOMH. He lives in Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous Crucible and Lyceum theatres, and also reviews in nearby Leeds and Manchester. John is also a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and can be often be found in one of Sheffield's comedy clubs, laughing like a madman.

Review: The Department of Distractions at Sheffield Crucible Show Info


Directed by Alexander Kelly, Rachael Walton

Written by Alexander Kelly, Stacey Sampson

Cast includes Nick Chambers, Stacey Sampson, Rachael Walton, Umar Butt

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