REVIEW: Chicken Soup at Sheffield Crucible Studio

By Dave Doyle | 26/02/2018

REVIEW: Chicken Soup at Sheffield Crucible Studio
The cast of Chicken Soup

PIT closures left deep, long-lasting scars on Rotherham and its people. 

To anyone directly affected, this much will be both obvious and stark.

But to anyone else - including Scouse immigrants like me - it is easy to miss the fallout a generation on.

Ray Castleton and Kieran Knowles have abridged the ballad of South Yorkshire's mining communities.

Written with oversight from Rotherham residents, it follows five women caught up in the aftermath of the Battle of Orgreave in 1984.

Miners wives Josephine (Judy Flynn) and Christine (Samantha Power) run a kitchen for picketers, joined by pregnant Jenny (Simone Saunders) after her husband is savaged by the police.

Helen (Jo Hartley) has been blackballed, her husband having crossed the picket to feed their poorly son.

All put on a brave face, exhibiting strength and unity which will carry them through three tough decades.

By act two, Jenny's daughter Katie (Remmie Milner) has arrived, helping the friends prepare for the Queen's jubilee.

Some are moving with the times, while others are paralysed by old wounds.

In act three, the same women - some now successful professionals, others struggling widows - staff a food bank as the recession bites, feeding the children of ousted miners.

It's heartbreaking to see these people relive past traumas but inspiring to see them plough through with such grit.

This feast of female strength is of a kind ignored by most media.

While Hollywood still preaches that sexy equals strong (think Wonder Woman), these five show that real strength doesnt require spandex.

Each character expresses her strength through angry outbursts, remarkable restraint and persistence against the odds.

Jenny evolves from timid to tenacious. Josephine stays upbeat, a rock for her friends. Christine's righteous anger never fades.

But the actors still shed tears when the going gets really tough, something particularly poignant in the Studio's close quarters.

The passing decades are marked cleverly with appropriate costume and tweaks to the set (made by the actors themselves) as contemporary sounds drift from the stereo.

The little details are noticeable - a kettle upgraded, a clock replaced, a burn to the lino and a window sticker slapped there playfully in 2002, faded and peeling 14 years later.

The small changes reflect ingeniously the plays overarching theme -  fashions come and go, but some things persist for generations.

These include grudges and economic devastation, but also community spirit and grass roots heroism.

Because, as Josephine points out when Christine longs to be weak just once, weak is not an option.

As if the plays content were not moving enough, a simple soup voucher plays its own poignant role.

Issued to each attendee before the show, these can be redeemed for one cup in the interval.

Look a little closer and find the coupon is a form for food bank users. 

Thirty years after the pits closed, many proud people are still in need. See Chicken Soup and find out why.