The latest Sheffield Theatres epic is as sharp as the scissors made in its factory setting
Sheffield Theatres have pulled out all the stops for the 50th anniversary of the iconic Sheffield institution, showcasing a new Chris Bush-written production across all three of its locations (The Crucible, Studio Stage and The Lyceum) – yep, it’s more than a little ambitious!
It’s essentially three stand-alone yet interlocking plays (stay with us) running simultaneously across three stages. Rock/Paper/Scissors utilises the same incredible 14-strong ensemble cast, playing the same set of characters weaving between the locations, and is delivered with expert precision, right down to the timing of the concurrent intervals.
Got it? … It’s one of those things that makes a lot more sense to see (and let’s get this out of the way early doors, we fully recommend seeing them if you can!) than it does to explain. It’s easy to marvel at the ingenuity of putting it all together, and the Sheff Theatres team would be just about forgiven for simply slapping themselves on the back for a near-miraculous feat of logistics, but true to their inimitable style, this production is more than just a novel concept!
Chris Bush has taken one of the city’s most enduring legacies, our ability to make bloody great scissors, and used that as a metaphor to depict the changing nature and landscape of our city. The trilogy is full of love, loss, and legacy, but more than anything it’s about transformation. Einstein’s 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, where he asserts that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, is referenced in all three plays, and in Rock Bush also uses Ecclesiastes’ line about there being a season for everything to emphasise the inevitability of change, the loss of the old world, and the prospect and impermanence of the new, without turning into a bleating nostalgia fest.
Her setting is the fictional Spenser and Son, a once thriving patriarchal family business that has slid over the course of 50 years to the brink of extinction. All the action takes place inside the factory, which is one of the last of its kind still making high-quality, hand-crafted products with precision, know-how and decades-old machinery. However, this failing business is haunted by the spectre of the new: online shopping and cheap Wilkos scissors, as well the recent death of its owner, Eddy Spencer, which has led to a custody battle for the ownership of the space between his surviving relatives and employees.
The economic trepidation is seen most notably through the lack of actual craftspeople left in a factory that is now entirely staffed by young apprentices, soon to be let go after completing their year-long qualification. This idea of a new world encroaching on the old is also seen in the young and, on the face of it, arrogant pop duo, Co-codamol, who crash into the set for a photoshoot, and the sister and step-daughter of the deceased factory owner, who use their competing plans for the future of the space to stake their claim on the building.
While this struggle for ownership is the crux of the narrative, variations of this story are told in each of Rock, Paper and Scissors, and while the over-arching story is the same, the shape of its journey is entirely different from one to another, bringing to the fore characters who may seem incidental in one, right to the fore in others.
Different themes are also weaved throughout, giving each play a distinct feel and style. Rock, in which middle-aged punk Susie (Denise Black) steals the show, becomes a near farce as the confusion of names and purpose is played out at break-neck speed, while Paper, which if I was pushed would be my choice of the three, has at its centre a simmering, edgy relationship between Faye (Samantha Power) and Mel (Natalie Casey), which in turn contrasts again to the seething political discontent and burgeoning love between the young apprentices in Scissors.
In short, this world-first has been a boundary worth pushing and cuts right to the heart of Sheffield’s identity crisis. Equal parts funny, poignant, and packed with emotional punch, it’s a hard recommend from us.