It's amazing that twelve decades after WWII, there are still personal, human stories to be uncovered.
Operation Crucible is based on real events during the war: on 12th December 1940, Germany's Luftwaffe bombed Sheffield's steel works, the heart of Britain's munitions manufacturing industry. Four men survived by hiding in the basement of a nearby hotel, and the play tells of their plight.
This is a production that bristles with masculine energy, with high energy physical performances from an incredibly strong cast. The dialogue is sharp and snappy, lines overlapping as the men finish each other's sentences to set a frantic tempo. It immediately instills a sense of male camaraderie and banter, cramming a huge amount of exposition into a short amount of time. Within minutes we feel like we know each distinct character - Arthur's introduction to the steelworks by his dad, Phil meeting his future wife for instance - and so we're invested in their stories, even if some details of plot are lost or occasionally rushed through.
Of course, the tragic events that unfold are inevitable, but the characters nevertheless rush headlong towards their fate. The pace of their dialogue quickens further, reaching an almighty crescendo before the bombing suddenly occurs. Here, the pace slows as laughter turns to fear and friendships are tested. The men reminisce on their lives as they group together beneath the rubble.
The use of light - or rather darkness - from Seth Rook Williams is integral to creating such an oppressive, harrowing atmosphere. The many juxtapositions of bright light and hellish darkness lit only by matches causes confusion, whilst Dan Foxsmith's subtle sound design adds to the frightening ambience and the bare stage allows the four actors to truly command the space. Their performances are moving, with just the right amount of comedic humanity - from Salvatore D'Aquila's Bob especially. As both playwright and cast member (Tommy), Kieran Knowles has done a sterling job of presenting this powerful story - it may focus on one small moment within the war, but it's no less tragic.
Watch: Operation Crucible runs at the Finborough Theatre until 22nd August.
Photos: Benjamin Macintosh