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Rock / Paper / Scissors: "A vein of Sheffield steel running through the very heart of the production"

With three full-length plays in three Sheffield Theatres venues, Rock / Paper / Scissors is, according to reviewer Paul Szabo, "as Sheffield as they come".

Samantha Power Faye Natalie Casey Mel in PAPER at Sheffield Theatres
Johan Persson

Having entertained Sheffield for half a century, there was little doubt that Sheffield Theatres were going to pull out all the stops with something as bold and ambitious as you would expect for the centrepiece of their 50th anniversary celebrations. And Rock / Papers / Scissors certainly falls into the bold and ambitious category.

Three venues, stages and stories; one cast, story and constant narrative; all played out simultaneously across the Crucible, Lyceum and Studio theatres.

Following the death of the owner of a scissor factory that has not fared well in the industrial struggles that the city has faced, his family and his chosen family jostle for position to determine the fate of the building, each with their own grandiose plans for the future of what they each believe to be their rightful inheritance. With a vein of Sheffield steel running through the very heart of the production, Chris Bush intertwines three perspectives of an unfolding family drama seamlessly, whilst referencing local landmarks, cultural icons and legendary tales from the steel city, all set against the backdrop of Sheffield’s industrial heritage.

Alastair Natkiel Billy Daisy May Molly Chanel Waddock Cocoin ROCK at Sheffield Theatres
Johan Persson

Rock transforms the Crucible stage into a large factory floor lit by faded, dirty skylights with a story which focuses on Susie, an aging rocker and sister of the late owner, who feels that the factory will make the perfect nightclub. Desperate to leave her legacy on the city’s cultural landscape, she envisages building “a cathedral to music” amongst the decaying factory. Denise Black stands out with a performance as attention grabbing and energetic as her character, and brings gravitas to the female-empowering narrative, which focuses on the value of family.

The Lyceum hosts Paper, where the step daughter of the owner and her wife search the cluttered office for the paperwork that will determine the fate of the factory. But as they bicker their way through the boxes, the cracks in their relationship start to widen. Hindered and aided in equal measures by the factory manager, his daughter and a dubious pop duo, the importance of communication in any relationship soon becomes apparent. Natalie Casey and Samantha Power bounce beautifully off each other, assisted by a script that is laced with humour and rapid exchanges but thinly veils a darker undercurrent to the story.

Dumile Sibanda Ava Jabez Sykes Mason in SCISSORS at Sheffield Theatres
Johan Persson

Scissors takes the audience to the workshop, where four apprentices ruminate on their future and the loss of traditional craftsmanship as the rumour mill circulates, speculating on the future of the factory. The importance of the bond between colleagues come to the forefront as it starts to dawn on them that it is not just their jobs that they stand to lose. Jabez Sykes and Joe Usher are highlights from the ensemble with their performances of their polar-opposite characters; there is a bitter-sweet tenderness underpinning the comedic shop floor banter.

With three full-length plays to see and given the simultaneous performances, there were a few aspects that didn’t quite work. In particular, some unnecessarily over-written characters, namely apprentice Liv and pop duo Coco D Mol, who were more distracting than comedic; and at times, some of the scenes felt padded and bloated to allow the cast to run between venues. Bush’s writing can be patchy in places, and the dialogue between junior members of staff and the other characters was unrealistic and off putting. But when you consider the technical feat that the cast and crew are achieving here, these are relatively minor quibbles.

Bush has crafted a detailed interwoven story that is well researched and will resonate with the local audience; it is as Sheffield as they come. Real credit is due to the directors Robert Hastie, Anthony Lau and Elin Schofield, who dovetail their respective pieces well and who provide a feeling of consistency across the board whilst still retaining their individual styles. The detailed set designs beautifully showcase the three spaces Sheffield Theatres have to offer.

For me, Paper stood out as the best of the three shows overall, but they all have their own moments that elevate them from the others. Each of the shows can be viewed as a standalone piece, but seeing two or all three of them will give you a rich insight into the lives of the characters and the relationships between them.

It certainly is an ambitious project, but it is one that works tremendously and one that Sheffield Theatres should be rightfully proud of.

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Rock / Papers / Scissors plays across Sheffield Theatres until 2 July 2022.

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