REVIEW: Orwellian-style The Department of Distractions at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio is thought-provoking and intriguing

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An intriguing production by Third Angel is on at the Crucible Studio Theatre in Sheffield. The Department of Distractions is written by Alexander Kelly, in conjunction with the cast, writes Alan Payne.

The company excel at producing work that combines acute social commentary with an off-beat poetry which verges on the surreal.

The Department of Distractions is a ‘what if’ exploration: what if all the stories and rumours that percolate our lives, both on screen and off screen, are manufactured and manipulated by a secret department we know nothing about – in order to distract us from the real problems of the world? It’s an Orwellian

concept, but delivered lightly, designed to provoke thought rather than induce a sense of radical uncertainty.

Rachael Walton, Nick Chambers and Umar Butt play three members of one of the offices of the department: the first stern, the second inordinately proud of his professional skills, the third a maverick who is able to think ‘out of the box’. All are difficult for the audience to read – what are they up to? They are joined, ostensibly, by a new member of staff, Daphne, played by Stacey Sampson. But is she all she seems? Has she rumbled what’s going on and is trying to infiltrate the department? Is she the source or subject of one of the stories the department has been developing? Is there something more sinister going on? There’s a play within a play – as the four actors read the script of one of the department’s scenarios – adding a detective element to the proceedings. The audience are drawn in, even if things are never conclusively resolved. A sense of mystery remains.

The stage design, by Bethany Wells, is elegantly functional, with some striking features: these include a wall of photographs, neatly displayed, of random but presumably significant objects; and a manikin, the kind used by art students to develop their skills – pliable, featureless, anonymous – a small visual detail which resonates with the themes being examined.

The Department of Distractions ends tonight (Saturday, February 2).