BWW Reviews: THE SHEFFIELD MYSTERIES, Crucible, Sheffield 15 July 2014
The Sheffield Mysteries, written by Chris Bush and directed by Daniel Evans, is the latest performance from Sheffield People's Theatre, the Sheffield Theatres-based company formed of local actors. It takes Christian mystery plays as its inspiration, turning the different stories into vignettes about life in Sheffield. The stories originally appear to be separate, linked mainly by recurring musical motifs, but as the production progresses, they become intertwined more closely as a comment on the importance of everyone taking their part in a community.
Bush's script offers a blend of humour, music and political commentary. Everything from renewable energy to asylum seekers to teenage romance to anti-terror laws is covered in the production as familiar Bible stories are turned into contemporary parallels about life in Sheffield in the 2010s.
The 91-strong cast (supported by the ten-person People's Theatre Band providing musical accompaniment throughout) have a fantastic energy and every member, from the youngest at 12, to the eldest, at 86, is put to good use. Evans' direction ensures this production has a real vitality, whilst Richard Kent's layered set design neatly solves the problem of how to get 91 people on stage at once and ensure they can all be seen.
There isn't a dull moment in the show, but there are some standout scenes, including a very funny take on Noah's Ark, a gospel-choir tinged take on the Nativity and a rap-based battle in a police station. Scenes involving a Pilate-figure politician in a yellow tie who sort of means well but struggles to reconcile his desire to progress in his career and please his contemporaries with the needs of his constituents raised a very particular form of knowing laughter from the audience.
For local residents, the production makes knowing nods to places and events, but the themes and characters are universal enough to be enjoyed by people who only vaguely know Sheffield. The People's Theatre are in the main Crucible theatre instead of the intimate studio this year and they deserve to see the seats in the larger venue full for what is a very entertaining night out.
The show runs until Saturday July 19 at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.