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Operation Crucible

From 24 critic and 93 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Intense, Intelligent, Great staging

About the show

After a successful run as part of 59E59's 2018 'Brits Off Broadway' series, this drama about four ordinary men who survive the Sheffield Blitz of World War II, returns Off Broadway. More…

"Operation Crucible" (code named by the Germans referring to its unique 18th century steelmaking) is based on the true story of the December 12, 1940 bombing of the Marples Hotel in the industrial city of Sheffield. It took only one German bomb to decimate the seven-story hotel into mere rubble. Unbelievably, four men survived the attack, only to be trapped in one of the hotel’s remaining and intact cellars. "Operation Crucible" is their story.

Front Row Center

“Knowles has molded and formed a fine piece of theater that shares with its audience not only this moment in time, but a doorway into the lives of the people who inhabited it. Delivered staccato, but melding together into musicality, the wonderfully crafted dialogue of the play reflects friendships of people knowing each other for a long period of time and riffing off of that familiarity in shared experience...A compelling story...sure not to leave you untouched.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

“The cast are superb individually and as a team. Their ensemble work is brilliant. Bryony Shanahan’s tight direction adds much to the production. The simple set and costumes by Sophia Simensky are apt. Seth Rook Williams’s low lighting is effective and Daniel Foxsmith’s sound design is appropriately ominous. The only negative, and it is not a serious one, is that the thick Sheffield accent is occasionally hard to decipher.” Full Review

Woman Around Town

for a previous production “Playwright Knowles puts us in place, time, tenor, and horrific incident with imagination and muscularity, yet never goes overboard...There’s not a weak link in this compelling ensemble. Every actor pulls his weight with respect to his peers. Focus is complete; timing impeccable, physicality redolent. Yorkshire accents are made clear...Director Shanahan helms the piece with creativity, power, and adroit minimalism...A compelling theatrical experience. Beautifully produced.” Full Review


for a previous production “Mesmerizing...Features an outstanding cast...The story is a timeless perspective of the chaotic effects that war has on civilians...Each of the four men's past lives and their present circumstances are portrayed with spirit, heart and some humor...The cast deftly assume multiple roles to create a portrait of each character...The actors master the show's intriguing dialogue and its rapid scene changes...An unforgettable and affecting theatre experience.” Full Review

London Theatre1

for a previous production "An amazing play about ordinary people involved, against their will, in momentous events...Having met Arthur, Bob, Tommy, and Phil, I really feel like I was there with them...Over the course of the production, the audience gets to know each one of them intimately...Fantastic from start to finish which manages to humanise an inhumane event perfectly...This really is theatre at its absolute best." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

for a previous production "The actors evoke the portraits of these men with vitality...Their exertions are beautifully executed. Each of their motions creates a picture of their operation, and their abilities and mental stamina...The direction and staging by Bryony Shanahan is flawlessly executed by the actors who work as a marvelous team...The play’s currency cannot be understated and for that reason and its thrilling execution, it should be seen." Full Review

Epoch Times

for a previous production “Knowles’s harrowing drama...based on actual events...What makes the entire experience so riveting, are the men presented. The play deeply examines just who these men were...The acting is very strong. The portrayal of each man is distinct enough to create a compelling picture, both as individuals and as friends. Most striking is how at ease they are with each other...Shanahan’s direction is excellent...Both a stirring historical lesson and a powerful human experience.” Full Review

British Theatre Guide

for a previous production "This is live theatre at its best. A brilliantly written play...superbly directed and performed with huge energy and sensitivity by a cast of talented actors with exceptional rapport...Shanahan takes the play at a cracking pace...and is full of invention when exploring the comic potential of the play...The four actors are impressive in different ways...A usually quite inhibited audience has risen to its feet to applaud." Full Review

The New York Times

for a previous production “Powerfully directed with a machine-tooled precision of its own by Shanahan, limits its point of view to that of four people...Captures so efficiently the dividing of war’s devastation. And it is all accomplished on a single simple set, with a cast of four and 80 minutes of stage time...Research informs his script, yet it is woven with a confident seamlessness into a story of men who, for much of our time with them, can barely see what’s in front of them. There is not a wasted word or gesture.” Full Review


for a previous production “In this period of physical and spiritual darkness, the show's direction shines. Shanahan isn't afraid of murk any more than she is of silence...The ingenuity of the designers, director, and script is heightened by the cast. All convince as working-class Englishmen while remaining distinct personalities...The play's emotional whammy complements its historical specificity...A reminder of both our humanity and our capacity for brutality." Full Review

Stage Buddy

for a previous production "Directed with imagination and taut pacing by Bryony Shanahan, the performances are sublime...Mr. Knowles writing is rich and his characters deeply empathetic. With poetic, earthy language, he manages to tell with clarity four individual stories in 80 minutes, weaving in and out of time periods and framing the play with vivid descriptions of that historic night bombs fell on Sheffield." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

for a previous production “The natural rhythm of the play extends the rhythm of the quartet's teamwork...Even in straightforward narration, they literally finish each other's the story unfolds. As directed by Shanahan, it all becomes a highly choreographed and near poetic display...The heart-pounding events are dramatically reinforced...Thanks to the strong performances and supportive design elements, Americans are likely to find themselves caught up in a war story.” Full Review


for a previous production "It is through the quality of ensemble acting, movement and writing that this play stands or falls, and by and large it succeeds admirably...From the outset the pace is set fierce and furious with pages of rapid-fire inter-cut dialogue and fizzing interactive physical energy...There is plenty of rough, joshing humour and then pools of repose where each character in turn is allowed more inward moments of self-reflection. This is very assured and mature writing for a first play." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

for a previous production "The production is great at contrasting the control the men hold over their tools in the factory – 'it’s magic lads' – with their lack of power against the more ‘metalized’ identity-extinguishing soldiers showering bombs down on them...Knowles’s writing, made sharp with the barbarous humour of the Yorkshire men as they jokingly swap jibes also has a poetic almost streams of consciousness quality...This helps externalise their individual experiences of war." Full Review


for a previous production "A powerful and energetic piece, plunging the audience into the blazing centre of the steelworks and the darkness of the bombed-out hotel's basement, with clever choreography and simple yet effective lighting changes...Although the play isn't telling new stories per se, it skilfully blends its focus on those who worked in the steel industry with its depiction of the war...Whilst it packs an emotional punch, it rarely gets swamped in sentimentality." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

for a previous production "High-spirited discussions in Knowles’s brisk, strenuously physical depiction of male camaraderie. The play also demonstrates how the bonds formed in the foundry begin to crumble beneath the rubble of the Marples hotel...Shanahan’s high-tempo production is forged from molten flashes of industrial choreography, but does well to keep the individual characters in focus...Knowles’s close observance of the steel-making process is enough to make even riveting seem a riveting prospect." Full Review

Time Out London

for a previous production "'Operation Crucible’ goes at such a breakneck pace. His sharp script and Bryony Shanahan’s dynamic, textured production blast onto the intimate stage...An episodic, non-chronological structure allows us to jump into the workers’ lives, to enjoy their bombastic work banter and watch tender family portraits. The underlining sentimentality is shot through with no-nonsense humour, which saves it from being saccharine." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

for a previous production "Just as important as its words is the inventively choreographic direction…A high-intensity performance in which each word, gesture, and activity is precisely calibrated…Succeeds in creating a strong sense of localized male camaraderie, stoicism in the face of danger…and anger under stress. As performed…it tends to be more theatrical than dramatic. Long passages in the dark…offer opportunities to doze. The characters…are easier to differentiate by their faces…than by their personalities." Full Review

Off Off Online

for a previous production “Energetic and affecting, and a little disorganized. It’s also intensely physical...Caroms around like a pinball, never spending more than a few minutes in one location and transitioning schizophrenically from narration to dramatization and back again. Shanahan paces it furiously...So cohesive a quartet that it’s hard to single any of them out...A fine little play...It might be even better if Knowles worked a little more logical cause-and-effect into it, and if he didn't seem to have a case o... Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

for a previous production "It’s dramatic and powerfully engaging as it flutters about, sometimes confusingly, jumping forward and backwards in time...The men portray this team of four as a unity of souls constructed with precision like integral parts in a larger machine that is more like a family then anything else...In general, their stories work wonders, pulling us in to a warm hearty and manly hug, but it’s in the overall direction, singular pacing, and the arch of storytelling that causes the walls to collapse." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

for a previous production "These moments are so many building blocks that don't add up to a play. The structuring of the episodes feels scattershot, and none of the characters emerges with a distinctive profile...The cast of four -- Salvatore D'Aquila, Christopher McCurry, James Wallwork, and Knowles -- is technically skilled, but Shanahan's direction is too high-pitched for theatre...This is the kind of narrative that is better suited to prose than the theatre. Everything about is well done, but it never catches fire." Full Review

The London Evening Standard

for a previous production "A lot of shouting swiftly plays to diminishing returns and so it proves, frustratingly, in this promising new work...An excess of undifferentiated bellowing bedevils Bryony Shanahan’s try-too-hard production, pulling crucial focus from the narrative at key moments. When Shanahan allows the play to take a deep, calm breath and trust in Knowles’s words, as during the hugely affecting ending, it’s far more satisfying." Full Review

The Stage (UK)

for a previous production "Knowles’s mosaic-like approach assuredly builds to some gut-wrenching final moments. These later scenes are the best...In contrast, the play’s early moments, while inventive and energetic, feel breathless and rushed. But when the production slows down and has the confidence to allow quiet, stillness and its atmospheric lighting and sound to draw the audience in – it’s electrifying, personal and raw." Full Review


for a previous production "While it's meant to be helpful, a glossary of local jargon in the program is usually a surefire sign that you're going to have difficulty following the play. Adding to the confusion is that the often dimly lit play leaves us in the dark, in both senses of the phrase. Given the circumstances of the plot, it's understandable that both director Bryony Shanahan and lighting designer Seth Rook Williams wanted to have many of the rapid-fire scenes unfold in utter pitch black. But it doesn't abet..." Full Review

Clever, Enchanting, Exquisite, Great acting, Masterful

See it if like excellent well performed British imports from the UK. Really tight production places you right in Sheffield UK.

Don't see it if if you are looking for a comedy because it is a tragedy.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Must see, Riveting

See it if You want to see a well written and extremely well acted small play featuring 4 talented actors. Beautifully done and inspiring true story

Don't see it if Prefer large splashy productions or don’t like small cast intimate dramas. Or only want to see Plays on Broadway.

Also This was a terrific play - almost poetic in the writing. The men are u... Read more Read less

Entertaining, Great acting, Intelligent, Heavy accents

See it if you like a story about the impacts of war as told by the common person (4 factory workers in this case). Amazing non-dance choreography.

Don't see it if Heavy accents, war-related, dark stage, flashes, etc affect you. Only downside was the actor's heavy accents, hard to understand sometimes.

Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Profound

See it if you enjoy terrific acting and particularly like a ​drama about World War Two. An important play about bravery during The Blitz. Mesmerizing.

Don't see it if you have trouble understanding thick British accents and do not like being in complete darkness. Otherwise, no other reason not to see it.

Ambitious, Intense, Intelligent

See it if You like play is based on actual events.

Don't see it if You want some typical Broadway story. This is stark very well acted and has some emotional parts. Very moving

Riveting, Intense, Intelligent, Great acting, Original

See it if Simple staging, terrific acting, and heartfelt writing are a draw.

Don't see it if Flashy production values are important to you.

Great acting, Intelligent, Absorbing

See it if strong ensemble acting and well staged "slice of life" drama appeals. Touching story and insights into a. back corner or WWII.

Don't see it if you prefer very contemporary writing or staging. Was not "conventional" but wasn't edgy either.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Resonant

See it if you are interested in WWII, great British theatre, new plays, nontraditional storytelling. The powerful story of four steel workers.

Don't see it if You are uninterested in history, intimate black box theatres, small casts, non-linear storytelling.

Clever, Great acting, Great writing

See it if Great story, very clever approach to the story telling. Excellent ensemble

Don't see it if You won’t like it if you struggle with heavy English accents

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Clever

See it if touching story of steel workers in an English town during WWII, their trauma when the town is bombed; high-energy as they act out their jobs

Don't see it if have trouble with British accents, don't want war stories, don't like minimalist staging with no props

Also There is a point in the play where it gets slow & dark & seemingly cla... Read more Read less

Great staging, Riveting, Profound, Touching, Intense

See it if You like shows based on true events, and enjoy good writing, detailed choreography and terrific acting. I felt like I was there.

Don't see it if You can't tolerate heavy British accents, small theatres, or scenes done completely in the dark.

Great acting, Great staging, Intense, Masterful, Absorbing

See it if you want to see a superb ensemble in a taut drama about a WW II event in England

Don't see it if have trouble with British accents

Also I am glad this Brits Off Broadway hit is back for a well-deserved enco... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Intelligent, Beautifully crafted, Great direction, Great precision acting

See it if you're interested in survival in England during WW2 & life/friendship in a steel factory. Beautifully performed, choreographed and written.

Don't see it if small, dark spaces make you feel claustrophobic; you are looking for a feel good play or a musical. This is an intense, well acted play.

Great acting, Must see, Absorbing

See it if You thrill to great performances by well-trained actors working together like an outstanding Chamber Orchestra. That this play, which has

Don't see it if You can’t make it before June 3rd when it closes.

Also been written by one of the actors and already been summarized by count... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Confusing, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if You are interested in a well-written, powerful, wartime slice of life drama.

Don't see it if You have trouble with thick accents or non-linear plot presentation.

Great acting, Intense, Great writing, Riveting, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to see an intense and gripping play with outstanding acting - i liked it a lot

Don't see it if You can’t handle a performance relating to WW2 or war

Absorbing, Riveting, Great acting, Compelling, Great directing

See it if you'd enjoy a gritty, compelling, evocative, sparsely staged 4-hander about surviving UK working class life & the Luftwaffe bombing of 1940.

Don't see it if you have no interest in WWII and/or Britain; you have an allergy to stage smoke/fog; you're looking for something lighthearted & undemanding

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Intelligent, Riveting

See it if You like intimate theater. The four excellent actors brought the audience into their world in Sheffield.

Don't see it if You need a splashy production. This was quiet and intense. Highly recommend.

Great acting, Riveting, Intense

See it if you want to enter the world of four people whose lives are probably very different from yours, and discover what you have in common.

Don't see it if loud noises upset you, or if you're claustrophobic or afraid of the dark.

Also The program includes a glossary of British terms that it's useful to r... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if you enjoy interesting stories based on important historical events

Don't see it if you only like musical comedies

Great acting, Great writing, Resonant, Intense, Absorbing

See it if you’d enjoy a war survival story of 4 ordinary steelworkers in Sheffield, UK. Strong ensemble cast performs on an intimate stage.

Don't see it if you don’t enjoy war stories or will have trouble understanding heavy northern British accents.

Also Humorous at times but very moving stories of 4 men as individuals as w... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Absorbing, Great acting, Fast-paced, Great writing

See it if you’d enjoy a crisp, taut, sometimes funny drama about the fallout from a WWII airstrike and the lives of several steelworkers affected.

Don't see it if you have trouble understanding Sheffield accents.

Absorbing, Riveting, Intense, Intelligent

See it if you will enjoy a ww2 story that is well written and will take you on a journey with 4 young men trying to cope with wartime Sheffield.

Don't see it if you don't like tragedy and drama, not an evening of light hearted theatre, but pensive tragedy and a wartime story.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Intense, Great writing

See it if Great character development of four steelworkers and their relationship during WW II. Well written and acted with virtually no set.

Don't see it if You have problems understanding strong accents or trouble following plays with frequent flashbacks.

Clever, Well-tuned, Absorbing

See it if Lovely snapshot of specific lives at a particular time in history, which winds you deeper into emotional stories. Well deployed flashbacks

Don't see it if Can't understand heavy Yorkshire/Sheffield/Irish accents (and if you go anyway, do NOT spend the whole time hissing, "What'd he say?"!!!)

Cast & Creatives (10)