Powerful new play could not be more Sheffield - and shows theatre wants its people back

“I hope it makes the light at the end of the tunnel shine a little brighter,” said Sheffield Theatres artistic director Robert Hastie before the start of ‘The Band Plays On’, a virtual performance filmed at the Crucible that he also directed.

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 12:38 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 3:20 pm
The Band Plays On, Photo by Chris Saunders

With mentions of Wincobank, ‘Threads’, Ward’s Bitter, Sheffield FC and a host of other echoic references, Sheffield Theatres’ premiere of a brand new production filmed and set in Sheffield is a beautifully written nod to friends, family, history and everyday life in the City of Sanctuary.

Writer Chris Bush, who also penned another Crucible hit, ‘Standing at The Sky’s Edge’, has combined emotive prose and music from the city’s favourite artists to take the viewer on a historical journey of Sheffield through the voices of five women, played by Jocasta Almgill, Anna-Jane Casey, Sandra Marvin, Maimuna Memon and Jodie Prenger, living their lives in our wonderful city through lockdown.

Kicking off with a ‘better-than-the-original’, said my Sheffield-born Dad, all-female rendition of the iconic ‘I Bet You Look Good on The Dancefloor’, and finishing with ‘Beginners’ by Slow Club, the power of their performances is compounded by this week being bookended by International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day – as well as the atrocities in the capital – making ‘The Band Plays On’ even more Herculean.

Maimuna Memon performing in 'The Band Plays On'

At one point, one of the monologues intertwines the The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 with that of the Hillsborough disaster: “water just flows where it is told to,” says actor Sandra Marvin, in a powerful emotive reference to so many lives being lost in both tragedies, and the reasons why.

Each of the women’s stories are intertwined in a beautifully optimistic conclusion – despite some of the subject matter in the run in being quite the opposite.

From politics to feminism, big topics from across Sheffield are dealt with in a humorous, engaging and insightful manner, never detracting from the overall message.

From Maimuna Memon’s character wearing a Sheffield FC shirt and breaking down boundaries with her dad over whether it is ok for women to play football, to Anna-Jane Casey saying "drop a nuke round here and no-one would even notice the difference,” about Threads and the impact its fictional depiction of nuclear war had on the city, each monologue is fascinating and engaging.

‘Come on, let’s get you home’ reads the artwork by one of Sheffield’s best artistic exports, Kid Acne, adorning stage right.

It has been over a year since I have stepped into one of the Sheffield Theatres, and I am now truly ready to go ‘home’.

The message is clear from the outset: Sheffield Theatres wants its people back, and it wants to celebrate everything about those that they have missed so much. And ‘The Band Plays On’ is the perfect way to do it.

The light really is a bit closer.

Watch ‘The Band Plays On’ online until March 28.