Sheffield Crucible re-opened a year ago. Nick Ahad talks to artistic director Daniel Evans about how things are going and looks forward to a special highlight.
While Daniel Evans has been in Sheffield for a couple of years now, it is just 12 months since the Crucible, the marquee venue at the heart of the Sheffield Theatres complex that Evans runs,
In 2007, the world famous theatre closed for a three-year, 15m redevelopment and while it was being given its much needed facelift, Evans landed the post of Sheffield Theatres artistic director, a job he described at the time as "the best in regional theatre".
The stunning Crucible was revealed to the public on February 18 last year with a production of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People starring Sir Antony Sher. Today Evans, who is directing at the Crucible for the first time since that show, has bounded over to Crucible Corner, the bar and restaurant that now falls under the auspices of Sheffield Theatres, during a lunch break from rehearsals.
So, it's been a year.
Evans beams and says: "Never has time gone by so quickly," before pausing to consider that a whole year really has passed and smiles. He can afford himself a moment of satisfaction. In the last 12 months 500,000 people have been through the doors of the Crucible, the Studio and the Lyceum theatres to watch shows as varied as the Ibsen, to John Simm in Hamlet and a production of a new play based on Alice in Wonderland.
Evans, a gifted actor, talented director and brilliant politician, allows the moment to pass quickly and adds: "There's a lot more to achieve yet. It feels like there is a lot ahead of us – which is as it should be."
Specifically what lies ahead is a season dedicated to the work of one of Britain's great post-war playwrights David Hare, an undertaking the magnitude of which has not been seen in the region for some time. Before we look forward, however, we continue to look back to the first full year of the Crucible re-opening. What has been delighting, disappointing and surprising?
"Delighting? Well, I have to say the amount of people that have come to the theatre. We have had a fantastic year and it really is delightful that people want to come and see what we are putting on.
"I've been disappointed by the amount of time I haven't been able to spend in the rehearsal room. I haven't directed for a year and that's too long, I won't be doing that again. It was important in the first year that I was around the building, there was a lot to sort out, but it was too long not to be directing.
"The hours have surprised me. I don't think it's possible to comprehend how much stamina is required to run a building until you've done it. I'm surprised that I'm at my desk at 8am and leave the theatre at 11pm. That is surprising – and exhausting and exhilarating."
When the refurbished Crucible was revealed to the public last year, it had a towering reputation and Evans had a lot of eyes on him. He chose to mark the Crucible's return with – controversially in some quarters – an Ibsen play. Many expected Shakespeare or something that was at least an easier sell.
"It was definitely the right decision," says Evans, looking back.
"Over 20,000 people saw a rarely performed Ibsen play. I had a hunch that it would feel contemporary and that it would speak both to audiences in the region and to now. It felt like a big, bold important production and I was really pleased with it as a marker of what we could achieve."
As the year passed Evans proved he was up to the job of running one of Yorkshire's premiere venues. He lured John Simm to take on Shakespeare's biggest role, programmed a sell out with the controversial Sisters and the theatre has just seen the end of a run of the musical Me and My Girl which played to over 32,000 people.
"It's hard to single something out as a highlight, I'm thrilled with the whole programme. We saw so many first time bookers and over 30,000 came to see John Simm in Hamlet," says Evans.
Allowing himself a moment to look back is important because the theatre is about to take on an unprecedented season of work. From February 3 to March 5 the Lyceum, Crucible and Studio will show the work of a single playwright for the first time in the history of the theatres. Oscar nominated, multi-award winning playwright David Hare is being celebrated in a season of work that will see three of his plays staged in the three theatres and a whole host of associated events in Sheffield. There will also be film screenings at Sheffield Showroom, talks, readings and other events.
It sounds like a heavy season, I suggest, Evans disagrees.
"I think it's inaccurate to call it that – I think the word is meaty," says Evans, who will direct Racing Demon as part of the season. "David's plays have great wit and he writes brilliant gags."
While Hare is, as Evans says, one of Britain's great post-war playwrights, why celebrate his work in particular as opposed to the perhaps more obvious choice of say Alan Bennett, and why now?
"Bennett would be the obvious choice, but I want us to surprise people and maybe give them something they aren't expecting and don't realise they will enjoy. Also, I love his plays. He started his career as a revolutionary with his company Portable Theatre, doing plays that were very political – and he continues to this day to be political and still feels so passionate. Even though he is a part of the establishment – 16 of his plays have premiered at the National – he remains what he always seemed to be, which is a socialist, political playwright.
"Not only that, both Kate Winslet (The Reader, 2009) and Nicole Kidman (The Hours, 2002) thanked him in their Oscar acceptance speeches, so I think people have heard of him and know his name, but might not have necessarily seen any of his plays. Hopefully we can give them the chance to do that."
Roll on the next 12 months.
The David Hare Season, Sheffield Theatres. For full details call 0114 249 6000, or log on to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk
David Hare's Life and career
Born Bexhill, June 5, 1947.
Education: Lancing and Jesus College, Cambridge.
1970-71: Resident Dramatist, Royal Court Theatre. 1973: Resident Dramatist, Nottingham Playhouse. 1975: Set up Joint Stock Theatre Company with David Aukin and Max Stafford-Clark.
Plays include: Slag (1970) Knuckle (1974), Pravda (1985), The Blue Room (1998), The Permanent Way (2003), Stuff Happens (2005).
Films: Damage (1992), The Hours (2002), The Reader (2008).
Awards: BAFTA (1979), the New York Drama Critics Circle (1983), the Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear (1985), the Olivier (1990). He was knighted in 1998.