Crucible Theatre 50th anniversary: New book shines light on spectacular quarrel behind 'controversial' theatre's construction

Noted now among Sheffield’s most significant structures, the Crucible Theatre’s design was once denounced as a “fad” that would fall swiftly from fashion.

As this month marks half a century since the renowned theatre opened its doors, Dr Tedd George, the son of its first artistic director Colin George, has co-written a book about the theatre – Stirring Up Sheffield: An insider’s account of the battle to build the Crucible Theatre – based on the manuscripts of his father who died in 2016.

It shines a light on the spectacular quarrel behind its construction and explores how the building’s design upset some of the biggest names in theatre.

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“I’ve always known the Crucible was very controversial,” said Dr George.

Dr Tedd George is the son of the theatre's first artistic director Colin George

“Of course 50 years later it’s become what everybody wanted it to be – a part of the fabric of Sheffield. You can see the influence of it to this day.

“You can do almost anything with the Crucible. It seems they knew what they were doing, it really was a very clever endeavour.”

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This is exactly what has secured its continued success, said Dr George, propelling it to a global stage not least as host of the World Snooker Championships.

But it was first seen as astronomically “radical”, decried by Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Clements and Sir Bernard Mills, who referred to the stage as “a kind of freak that would be out of date in seven years’ time”.

“There were really difficult conversations to say ‘this theatre doesn’t work’,” said Dr George.

“It built up this idea that they were building a folly.

“On the flip side, there were people who rose up in support of it, among them Alan Ayckbourn.”

While the Crucible’s build was controversial in 1971, said Dr George, it was to influence theatre design nationwide including for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“In Sheffield it’s something people love,” he said. “And if you ask anybody in theatre, they all know the Crucible.

“It’s the first example of that kind of stage, and so well known.”

A year of shows has been announced by Sheffield Theatres to mark 50 years of the Crucible and Studio Theatre, alongside the book’s launch.

“It’s a story of a theatrical journey,” said Dr George.

“Dad knew it needed to be seen as a revolutionary space, and they were so right in that ambition.

“The ambition was for the Crucible to be a part of the Sheffield community, and it is, far more than they could have realised.

“In 50 years, it’s seen everything conceivable.

“It started as an argument about ‘what is theatre,’ it’s ended as exactly what everybody wanted it to be.”