Travelling theatre

Charlotte Emerson in rehearsals for The Distance, at the Crucible Studio. Picture: Johan Persson
Charlotte Emerson in rehearsals for The Distance, at the Crucible Studio. Picture: Johan Persson
  • As another hit London play is arrives in Sheffield, Theatre Correspondent Nick Ahad talks to one of the stars of the much acclaimed The Distance.
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Sheffield Theatres continues its impressive run of bringing to Yorkshire regional premieres of shows that have caused a stir in the capital.

That Face, The Effect, just two plays that have premiered in London and were then quickly snapped up by those in charge of the Sheffield Crucible, ensuring the South Yorkshire theatrical powerhouse was the first outside of the capital to share the plays everyone was talking about with a Yorkshire audience. The Distance is the latest to be added to that growing list.

Deborah Bruce is the director with an impressive CV who turned to writing – and who appears to be equally accomplished at creating worlds for characters as well as bringing to life the worlds created by other writers. First seen at the Orange Tree in Richmond, just over 12 months ago, the play received some serious plaudits, earning four and five stars.

Now it’s our turn to see if the reviews were justified.

In the director’s chair this time is Charlotte Gwinner, the woman who was last in Sheffield with some serious work, directing two of the theatre’s offerings for the Sarah Kane season.

The play tells the story of a group of female friends, Bea, Alex and Kate, who have been best friends for years. In a way it’s classic theatrical fare – the group are reunited, secrets are revealed and suppressed memories come to the fore. Bea, at the heart of the story, has left her family in Australia, to return to her British friends and possibly life.

Charlotte Emmerson, who plays Alex, needs something special these days to take her away from her young family – her husband, Scottish actor Iain Glen, is away for much of the year filming with Game of Thrones. The Distance, it appears, is special enough to bring her to Sheffield. “As well as being a director, Deborah, the writer, was also an actor. It means she’s written a script that is really beautifully written. Charlotte, our director, calls it accentuated reality,” says Emmerson. “A lot of people complain about modern actors mumbling, but this is the sort of script that just can’t be mumbled. It is a script that really puts everything out on the table.”

While it’s frustrating to be asked – and the truth is, to ask – about the fact that there is a new play that puts women characters at its heart, it is important to ask because women are still under-represented in theatre.

“I think it’s an issue for acting in general. Brad Pitt is, what 51 now? Will he be cast opposite a 51-year-old woman? It’s not necessarily something I always want to talk about, but when you have that happening – and then you have a story like this, that is beautifully written, down to earth and about women, well...” She doesn’t need to finish the sentence. In case you start thinking The Distance is some polemic, rest assured that the ‘accentuated realism’ includes an awful lot of funny. “It is about people caught up in their own being, but unaware they are so caught up in their own being. It does that fantastic thing where it makes you laugh, but it is also full of heartbreaking moments.”

At the Crucible Studio until November 14.