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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

The company, The Band Plays On. All photos by Chris Saunders, courtesy of Sheffield Theatres.

We hear this performance before we truly see it. The familiar opening riff of Arctic Monkeys’ I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor kicks things off in the most high-energy way.

Playing across a series of monologues with energetic renditions of Sheffield anthems between each scene, The Band Plays On tells the stories of several Sheffield women as they walk us through life-shaping events. The show, filmed on the Crucible stage and streaming online, is an ode to the Steel City and its everyday influence on its inhabitants. From the Sheffield Floods to the Hillsborough disaster, Sheffield FC to the Sheffield Female Political Association, the city’s rich history lives and breathes through every monologue and moment.

The cast includes a diverse range of women of different ages and ethnic backgrounds. It’s a fantastic reflection of the realities of the vibrant multiculturalism of Sheffield.

From Chris Bush, who gave us Standing at the Sky’s Edge, this piece is as much a celebration of womanhood as it is of Sheffield. The cast pour so much into the performance. Rather than letting the distance restrictions and virtual challenges limit them, their performances grow to fill the gap caused by the lack of a live audience. It feels special, almost defiant – these women are no longer letting the pandemic prevent them from spreading the joy of theatre.

When it works, it really works. At certain points, I can’t take my eyes off the screen. There are some moments, though, where it feels like the show needs to work a little more to keep a virtual audience engaged – particularly as many will have already spent the day staring at laptop screens for work. The cast sit on the sidelines until its their turn to perform their monologue, which seems like a waste. I’d love to see more interaction between them, to bring the stories to life with more visual stimulation.

The musical performances are truly electrifying, though. They’re a very interesting feature in this not-quite-a-musical play, doing a fantastic job of revitalising the viewer after the emotional (and sometimes tear-jerking) monologues.

The Band Plays On really is theatre at it’s most stripped back. No elaborate sets, no complicated staging. Just one woman at a time, on a stage, telling her story. In a world where many women feel silenced, the power in amplifying the voices of Sheffield women is not only welcomed, it’s needed.

Sandra Marvin, The Band Plays On

The company, The Band Plays On

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