DAVID DUNN: Theatres’ impresario loving life at helm

Members of the cast of  Me and My Girl at The Crucible Theatre.
Members of the cast of Me and My Girl at The Crucible Theatre.
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As he unveils the final plays of his second season at the helm, Sheffield Theatres’ artistic director Daniel Evans takes stock and looks ahead. The Star’s Entertainment Writer David Dunn reports.

IF you’ve seen a smartly turned-out chap with a passing resemblance to a young Patrick Stewart standing and smiling in the foyer of the Crucible during the past few months, chances are it was Daniel Evans.

Artistic Director Daniel Evans'THEATRE EVANS

Artistic Director Daniel Evans'THEATRE EVANS

Now safely through his first year as the creative gamekeeper of Sheffield’s Crucible, Lyceum and Studio theatres, he’s been seeking direct feedback regarding his offerings since the city got all three of its famous performance spaces back to full strength.

“My philosophy is having balance, surprise and richness,” he says.

“When you have three theatres, which is such a privilege really envied by directors and other theatres, it’s important we keep surprising people. That is an ongoing journey because you can never really know.

“So I often hang around in the foyer when the audience is either going in or coming out. You’d be surprised the number of people who come up to me and say, ‘Can I see this play?’ People write to me and say, ‘I think you should do this’ - and it’s not necessarily the kind of plays you would think people would want to see.”

The Crucible has enjoyed commercial success with its productions of Hamlet, starring John Simm, and the universally acclaimed Christmas revival of Me & My Girl.

“I’m proud of the building and seeing how that’s been functioning,” says Daniel. “It’s been brilliant to see it especially during Hamlet, full every night.”

Next up is the staging of three contrasting works by British playwright Sir David Hare, the Olivier-winning mind behind the screenplays for Oscar-nominated big screen hits The Reader and The Hours.

The season began with Plenty in the Crucible Studio last week and continues with Racing Demon on the main stage next week before concluding with The Breath Of Life in the Lyceum with Patrician Hodge and Isla Blair. “Me & My Girl has been big for us, 23 in the cast, 11 in the band, a huge set and as good as anything you’ll see in the West End,” says Daniel.

Antony Sher as Tomas Stockmann in Crucible opener An Enemy Of The People

Antony Sher as Tomas Stockmann in Crucible opener An Enemy Of The People

“And the David Hare season is a different thing again. David is one of our most influential, prolific, post-war living British playwrights and very under-rated; he has had 16 plays première at the National Theatre.

“And this theatre has a traditional of playwright seasons - Peter Gill had one, Pinter, Carol Churchill - so I thought let’s go even bigger and go across all three spaces.

“They’re each written 12 years apart, so hopefully audiences will come to all three and get a sense of how this artist developed. That’s the idea. I’m really excited and curious to see what people think.

“It’s definitely the most ambitious thing we’ve done so far.”

Artistic Director Daniel Evans with the cast of Racing Demon'THEATRE EVANS

Artistic Director Daniel Evans with the cast of Racing Demon'THEATRE EVANS

Back in action with Racing Demon

RACING Demon – opening on Thursday - sees Daniel directing his first play since Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, the play that saw the Crucible enter a new era after its £15m refurbishment.

“I have been itching to be back into the room,” says the artistic director. “But I didn’t on purpose so I could oversee other stuff.

“While it was a bit of a personal sacrifice, because it means I’ve not been in the rehearsal room and less creative, that’s been essential.”

Racing Demon is one of three plays by celebrated British writer David Hare taking over all three Sheffield Theatres stages this month. Plenty is underway in the Studio, while The Breath Of Life opens a week on Wednesday.

“This play is slightly different to David’s other plays,” he says of Racing Demon. “It’s warmer and it’s a subject that fascinates me, which is faith. The play asks lots of questions I think can touch everyone. They might not think they do, but they do. Very simple questions like ‘is there a God?’ but also much more complicated questions like ‘is there morality without God?’.

“How do we know what’s good or bad if there’s no God to tell us? Where do our notions of what’s right and wrong come from? Is there such a thing as a spirituality without God? In these times where church numbers are dwindling, people are still reaching out and searching for meaning.

“In this play, those questions are asked through a story of four priests in a parish. They’re all eccentric in their own ways. There’s some great humour in the play. I also find it very poignant, as it talks about their relationships with each other.

“It’s a really well made play and in our space in the theatre everyone is all around, it is like a church.

“It’s a work of fiction, even though it depicts a period really well. It was at the time when AIDS was at its absolute height, the end of the Thatcher era. It’s a very simple set, beautiful but simple.”

Running alongside the productions The Showroom cinema will be screening eight Hare films and there will be play readings, including the writer performing his Middle East monologue Via Dolorosa on the Crucible stage on February 18.

Hare travelled to Israel and Palestine in 1997 in order to write and perform Via Dolorosa for the Royal Court.

“I have a hunch when people come to the David Hares they will have a really fulfilling evening,” adds Daniel. “Fascinating, but something that will make them think.”

Actors’ wish-list lined-up

KNOWN by many prior to his arrival in Sheffield as a talented actor, Daniel confirms he will see out his second season at the helm with a return to the stage in two very different productions – The Pride, and the 2011 Christmas musical, Sondheim’s Company.

He is also looking to tick a few more names on his wish-list.

“I have quite a long list of actors I want to invite and a list of parts next to them,” he confirms. “Patrick Stewart started his career in Sheffield at The Playhouse, so we’re in touch. And you’ll be surprised how many people come to us and say, ‘Could I come and do this?’.

“When it has come to casting it’s helpful that actors know our reputation and want to visit, either on stage or in an audience. Hopefully, people will think of us as a place where excellent work goes on and so will want to come and do things.

“I’ve been really proud of the work that’s been on our stages and the work we’ve done in creative development as well, work with young people, with young people with disabilities. And lots of work with local actors - that’s going to come big time in the autumn.”

And while there are also plenty of actors, there are also a lot of plays to consider.

“I definitely think ‘so many plays, so little time’ but I don’t have sleepless nights about it - it’s exciting. The thing that’s hard to do is balance the season.

“You can’t do Shakespeare all the time, nor would we want to do. There’s certainly a play to be written about snooker, and that’s something we’re working on.

“There’s also a big city-wide project, a promenade event that could happen through the city and end up in the theatre.”

‘Wonderful year’ - and plenty more to come

SO what is to come?

May will see the Studio stage Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of its first production.

A comedy, it will feature Pauline McLynn, who played Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, and Peter Gowen, directed by Jonathan Humphreys, who is working at Sheffield Theatres as part of the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme.

Hobson’s Choice, by Harold Brighouse, will be directed by Christopher Luscombe, the same month on the Crucible stage.

The season concludes with Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride in the Studio and Daniel in the role of Oliver. As an actor, he previously appeared on the Crucible stage in Cloud Nine and The Tempest. Directed by associate Richard Wilson with the same team that triumphed with That Face, this “adult” play is set in two different time zones.

“It’s been a wonderful year for Sheffield Theatres,” says Daniel.

“Since the reopening of the Crucible we have welcomed over half a million people through our doors. We’re also looking forward to celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Crucible in November.

“During this time of uncertainty in the arts sector, this landmark birthday will not only celebrate our iconic building but also the essential role we play in the city and the region’s cultural, economic and spiritual life.”