It was probably the biggest theatrical event of that year as the pre-publicity suggested – certainly in those parts – and, if it wasn’t the best play too, there were plenty of times in the seven-thirty of stage time, especially in the delicately moving and raucously funny Scissorswhen you struggled to recall a better one.
The plot is basically simple, the complications numerous. Spenser and Sons Scissors in Sheffield barely exists, the staff consisting of the manager and four apprentices, the boss having just died. Only the prospect of a huge order from China keeps the factory open.
Omar, the factory manager, constantly dangles the carrot of the visit of a photographer from The star and a feature film in front of her workers, then the same day two members of the family, each convinced that she inherits, decide to take a look at the place before putting their plans into action. Aging rocker Susie, sister of late owner Eddie, hosted a photoshoot for her latest discoveries, a band wittily named Co-Codamol (Coco and Molly) before converting the place into a rock venue, and Faye , Eddie’s adopted daughter, decided to visit with her partner Mel and a design consultant to look into the possibility of luxury apartments. No wonder that the half-hour opening of Rock is littered with misunderstandings about the nature of “Are you the band?”.
From this opening premise, Chris Bush crafted three plays, to be played simultaneously in all three Sheffield theaters with the same cast of 14. The actors walk out into one theater and walk into another and, while Bush takes precautions to ensure safety margins (extended scenes for two people for example), the synchronization remains impressive.
Each of the plays focuses primarily on one of the schemes, and although at the end of the first play the audience is told of the future life of the Spensers site, the character development in all of the plays retains more than the be careful – this is not a play where the interest is in solving the mystery. The ad reminds us that each piece stands on its own. I think that’s probably true, but also the order of rock Paper Scissorsas enacted during a long but fascinating press day, seems to me to be the one that gains the most depth.
Rock is the quietest and noisiest. In the main Crucible theater, it boasts a glorious Ben Stones backdrop, the vast space filled with iron staircases and topped with a roof of uncleaned windows half-filled with bird droppings. For me, it’s hard to maintain interest in Susie who has brought along her delightfully civilized old pal Leo (Andrew Macbean) for company. Incidentally, Denise Black (Susie) has a lot of fun during brief appearances in the other two rooms.
Anthony Lau as director does everything in his power to make an impression: big singing and dancing sessions (very well staged), especially for three of the apprentices. It also has to work hard to introduce all 14 characters, ending with the rather unlikely appearance of Co-Codamol. The problem is that, with plays that mix heart-laughing and belly-laughing, the temptation of cheap comedy proves a little hard to resist.
It’s not a problem with Paper, staged at the Lyceum Theater and named after that piece of paper (deeds, will) that Faye and Mel are looking for. Again, the set looks great, with Janet Bird filling the factory office with boxes, folders, toilet paper rolls, Henry cleaner, and all the other trash you could think of. Robert Hastie directs a much calmer and more intense production, with the potential schism between Faye and Mel being overcome to provide a kind of happy ending, as indeed Susie also reaches in Rock.
Scissors is somewhat different from the other two games. Made in the round at the Studio, directed by Elin Schofield to designs by Natasha Jenkins (central space filled with machines and workspaces, figures often seated on Spenser and Son chairs in the front row), it focuses on apprentices, singularly ill-mouthed, but also surprisingly articulate. The future belongs to them: if the business can stay open, they will have a job. For the first time, we are forcefully reminded that it is they, and not the factory manager or his daughter, nor the relatives with their grandiose plans, who are the beating heart of the company. For the first time we hear about the underside of management’s interest in the place: low wages and, in the good old days, half the workforce was laid off when the father of Eddie took over.
And they’re awesomely likeable, despite their quirks, and a powerful team. Joe Usher, making his stage debut as Trent, handles the difficult task of effectively projecting cuteness (despite having the form). Maia Tamrakar (Liv) and Dumile Sibanda (Ava) are both great, Tamrakar fiercely confronts everyone, Sibanda is about to become a supervisor, both are very funny. And Jabez Sykes’ Mason is one of the great comic creations (although you’d do well to heed his more serious offerings): convinced he’s being left out and bullied, equally convinced that a rant three minutes on his colleagues does not prevent him from being a nice guy, totally illogical and desperately logical at the same time.
As for the other actors, none missed the shot. Samantha Power (Faye) and Natalie Casey (Mel) wear Paper with their flimsy witticisms, luminous Power in the face of his spinning life, Casey more morose and sardonic. Guy Rhys (Omar, the unsmiling manager) and Lucie Shorthouse (Zara, his daughter) occupy a kind of moral happy medium: as guardians of the faith, we identify with them, but how can we be sure of what they knew ? And the enmity towards the seemingly charming Zara of the apprentices must be explained.
Leo Wan transforms into the delightfully baffled and naively awkward Xander, the design consultant, and Alastair Natkiel is utterly likeable as Billy, the photographer. Which leaves Chanel Waddock (Coco) and Daisy May (Molly). The two members of Co-Codamol seem heavily crushed to me, but Waddock and May (it even sounds like a 1930s double act) is sure to get everyone laughing.