Lend me your ears

FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN: Rehearsals for Julius Caesar which opened at the Crucible in Sheffield this week.  Picture: JOHAN PERSSONFRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN: Rehearsals for Julius Caesar which opened at the Crucible in Sheffield this week.  Picture: JOHAN PERSSON
FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN: Rehearsals for Julius Caesar which opened at the Crucible in Sheffield this week. Picture: JOHAN PERSSON
For his first production as artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, Robert Hastie directs Julius Caesar. Nick Ahad reports.

I suppose at some point I should speak to the board at Sheffield Theatres and ask how they keep pulling such exceptional rabbits out of their hat.

Michael Grandage, Sam West, Daniel Evans have all lead the three theatres that make up Sheffield Theatres – the Lyceum, the Studio and the world 
famous Crucible – over the past decade.

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The latest person to be added to that impressive list is Robert Hastie, another actor-turned-director who now hopes to 
carry on the illustrious history of one of Yorkshire’s most famous theatres.

This month we will get to see what Hastie is made of when he unveils his new production and his first as the man in charge as the artistic director of Sheffield Theatres.

Appointed last year, as I sit and watch Hastie rehearse his first play for Sheffield, Julius Caesar, he’s a man with a quiet confidence. How confident? Not only is he happy to allow actors and fight directors have a voice in his rehearsal room, he’s also cast former artistic director Sam West in this production.

The significance of that shouldn’t be understated: his vision is focussed on creating the best work he can for the theatre, regardless of ego.

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When he takes a break for us to chat – at 6.30pm ahead of a further evening session of rehearsals – it quickly becomes clear why his ego is less important than putting quality on the stage of what are now his theatres. Love.

“I’ve always really loved this place. It’s a great privilege, honour and there’s a real sense of pride as well,” he says.

“I fell in love with this space through watching Shakespeare here, those great productions that Grandage did. I remember when Branagh did Richard III, I was at RADA and a group of three of us came up to see it. I just fell in love with the place.”

With the announcement of his appointment, then his actual start date, then the announcement of his first production and his first season, like all artistic directors there is a significant period 
that seems to have to happen before the actual job in hand begin.

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“It’s felt like a series of arrivals, but now with this production it feels like the final wheels on the runway. It feels now like the artistic bit of being an artistic director is actually kicking in.”

Talking to him, I reckon it’s the passion that landed Hastie the job. The Scarborough-raised artistic director is well aware of how important a theatre can be to a town or city, his home town’s Stephen Joseph Theatre is a key part of that seaside town.

It is a sweet circularity that brings him back to Sheffield; it transpires that his first acting role was in Steel City.

“I’ve said before in interviews that my acting career began with pushing a wheelbarrow up a ramp in the Crucible, but actually when I technically first started getting paid to be an actor was in that rehearsal room where we’ve just been,” he says.

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“I remember standing in the little kitchen next to the rehearsal room with Iain McDiarmid and thinking ‘this is great, you get paid for this’.”

He’s now getting paid for a lot more than pushing a wheelbarrow. As the man in charge, he is going to be artistically leading not just the theatres, but in many ways the city, something of which he is entirely aware.

“The wonderful thing about this place is that it couldn’t be anywhere else in the world. The stage shares the same DNA as some of the great thrust stages in this country and in America, but this theatre has something very particular which means it could only really exist here.

“I don’t know many cities that want to love their theatres as much as this one does. It’s a very precious thing and I also feel a great responsibility because of that as this particular moment’s custodian.”

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Well aware, as all previous artistic directors will have been, that he’ll have many eyes on his first production, it is interesting that Hastie has chosen Julius Caesar as his opening gambit.

“It’s a play I’ve always been fascinated by. Peter Brook talks about Shakespeare plays being 
like planets with irregular orbits and how certain ones seem to swing closer to us at certain times and this feels like a play that’s swinging really close to us right now. I knew that I wanted to start my tenure with a Shakespeare and I had an instinct that I couldn’t quite articulate about this play in particular.

“I wanted it to be a play that was in conversation with the city and that was about a city and a community. At the time I programmed it Sheffield was planning on having a mayoral election and this is a play about a city choosing how it wants to be ruled and choosing a leader. It felt very apposite.”

The mayoral election never happened, but something else did.

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“We started rehearsals at 11.15am the Tuesday after the Bank Holiday which was to the minute of the announcement of the general election,” says Hastie, still a little dumbfounded by the coincidence.

“As Sam West pointed out, in a play that’s all about omens that’s either a very good or a very bad omen.”

I’d reckon it’s a good one.

Hastie is quick to add: “I do say that the play feels particularly relevant, for obvious reasons, but I suspect there is rarely a moment in the past 400 years that it hasn’t not been relevant. It’s a play about power and that’s something that always is and always will be relevant.”


Robert Hastie’s Julius Caesar will be noteworthy not just as his first production at the Crucible, but also because it features genderblind casting, with women taking roles written for men, something that has caused controversy recently. 
He says: “This is a statement of intent, I wanted to start with a balance of genders and bring equality across the whole season.” Julius Caesar is running at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield until June 10.

For tickets call the box office on 0113 2496000 or visit www. sheffieldtheatres.co.uk