★★★ | Jack Steele & Family

A proud, Northern family man celebrates his 70th birthday surrounded by his family in the converted steel mill where he used to work, but as the night unfolds, so does the fabric of his family in this modern take on the kitchen sink dramas of the 1960’s.

Jack Steele arrives at his old place of employment which evokes memories of friends, his pride and dedication in his work and his deceased wife. His son, Nick is a university lecturer who has a difficult and tempestuous relationship with his brother, Chris, a successful property developer who has left Sheffield and shows no affection for the city that made him. Nick is the straight-laced son who has always acted as the rock for the family, whereas Chris is more self-serving and much less reliable. The relationship between Nick and Chris is soured further by Nick’s wife, Louise, who made an irreversible decision when she was misdiagnosed with a terminal illness.

The grandchildren also have problems and pressures of their own and the cracks in the family start to show as the evening unfolds and the prodigal son returns. Torn between the loyalty to his family members, trying to deny the fact that he favours one son over the other and struggling to find where he belongs both in his family and his community, Jack’s northern pride and confused emotions come to the surface in this bitter sweet story.

The stage was beautifully constructed, with corrugated iron sheets and huge forged crane hooks hanging from the ceiling. The set, coupled with a very well lit stage, flooded with oranges and reds, provided an authentic and engaging atmosphere. The costumes were simple and functional and the static layout of the stage was suited to the production. The show was not technically dazzling, but it was never meant to be and the draw here is the drama unfolding on stage as opposed to it being a visual spectacle.

Fine Time Fontaye turned in the best performance of the evening as the titular Jack Steele, showing an old man who becomes overwhelmed by his feelings, which overflow his stiff upper lip and Yorkshire dignity. Good support was provided by Robert Angell as Nick Steele, Susan Cookson as Louise Steele and Ian Reddington as Chris Steele. The remainder of the cast was made up of drama students from Sheffield Hallam University who deserve credit for their involvement. Some of them showed particular promise, especially Sam Parkinson, who looked very comfortable and natural on stage.

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This original play, which I was fortunate enough to see at its premiere, was enjoyable and the characters were not only well written, especially the male leads, but were easily recognisable from the viewer’s own family, friends and colleagues. The play was a joint venture between Sheffield Theatres and Sheffield Hallam University and was littered with local references and a story, which went to the heart of the city. That said, whilst some of the local references may be missed by those who are not familiar with the area, the story has enough universal themes to negate the need for an in-depth knowledge of the city.

This was, in many ways, local theatre as it should be; namely written, produced and performed by talent from the city where the story is set and the show itself is performed in. But aside from the fact that, like Jack Steele, this reviewer has a deep-rooted love for his hometown, it is not just a show for Sheffield people.

Jack Steele and Family is currently showing at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until the 20th July 2013.