18 JULY, CRUCIBLE

Songs from the Seven Hills is the latest performance by the Sheffield People’s Theatre which has quickly become a regular fixture on the Sheffield Theatres annual hit list.  It was, as always, an absolute joy to watch.

The script is based on interviews with local residents: a local community centre fighting closure; a vicar’s abusive relationship; a transgender teen and her family; Syrian refugees travelling to the city; a recent widow struggling through eccentricity; and, of course, a Swedish furniture store. Like Sheffield itself, the stories are real, heartfelt, dynamic and diverse.

We are woven through the show by a deceased steelworker who gradually reveals the links between the stories, navigating gently from the plights of the refugees to the delights of Swedish hotdogs. The script is humorous but respectful and the songs catchy but not simplistic. The movement is designed to rightly challenge the actors, who span from the low teens to the high 80s, all superbly directed to a triumph of ensemble performance. In what is mainly a fight of the underdog story, kindness prevails and we are left with a feeling of pride and reverence.

There are some standout performances throughout the show, both vocally and visually, but what really engages the audience is a true sense of community spirit and a collective voice of modern-day Sheffield that screams honesty and reminds us to reflect. It’s easy to forget in our everyday lives that loved ones are lost all the time, that refugees are still in crisis, that we live in a world where hatred towards transgender people exists.

A Sheffield People’s Theatre performance is a great example to all community theatre projects and they should be proud that the experience seems to benefit the community actors as much, if not more, than anything else. Lives, skills, memories and confidence are developed during the rehearsal process and it’s this commitment from all involved that becomes apparent the moment the actors step onto the stage.

Those who have a negative perception of non-professional actors would do well to see one of these shows and ask: what is a theatre for, if not an escape for all?

Photo: Mark Douet

Jonny Syer