Gang warfare for Sheffield actors!

Sheffield-born actor Matthew Croke visiting rehearsals for show A Night at the Movies at his old dance school, Sharon Berry School of Theatre Dance. Rehearsals at St Thomas Moere Community Centre, Parson Cross
Sheffield-born actor Matthew Croke visiting rehearsals for show A Night at the Movies at his old dance school, Sharon Berry School of Theatre Dance. Rehearsals at St Thomas Moere Community Centre, Parson Cross
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Two Sheffield actors are friends off stage but at the Lyceum they face each other as members of rival gangs in a hit version of West Side Story.

Matthew Croke and Devon McKenzie-Smith are in the touring cast of the West End hit production of the favourite musical.

Devon plays Nibbles, one of the Sharks street gang, and Matthew is Diesel, a member of the rival Jets.

On Monday, Matthew took the lead role of Tony. He’s an understudy for the part and said: “I’ve done it once before, four or five weeks ago in Southampton, and it went really well.

“It’s a very big role and it’s very nerve-racking but very exciting.

Speaking hours before the show, he added: “I’m used to my family watching everything I’ve done. They are very, very supportive. But with Sheffield being quite far away from London, this is convenient for lots of friends.

“I don’t know whether I’m more nervous or excited!”

Matthew said he found Tony very different to tough guy and protector Diesel. “He’s just a fun, excited guy, there is nothing really much to him.

“He’s got something inside him waiting to explode and then he falls in love with Maria. He’s so in love with her.”

Then tragedy strikes the lovers. “The most difficult part is at the end when he breaks down. I imagine Maria being my girlfriend and making it as real as I can. You’ve got to believe it’s happening to you.

“It’s hard letting go and forgetting the audience in front of you. I’m believing it for them.”

One proud member of the audience was Sheffield dance teacher Sharon Berry. Matthew and Devon are old boys of the Sharon Berry School of Theatre Dance.

Each has choreographed numbers for the dance school’s show, A Night at the Movies, at The Montgomery next week.

Matthew also visited rehearsals last Saturday at St Thomas More Community Centre in Parson Cross.

Matthew, who comes from High Green but later moved with his family to Ecclesall Road, said: “I started going to dance school because of my sister. My brother went for a bit but gave it up.

“I really enjoyed it and found myself naturally quite good at it. The more I did, the more I loved it.

“It was a hobby at first and then I went into it more seriously. I’ve not looked back since.”

He went to Greengate Primary and then Ecclesfield School and also attended the Maureen Law dance school.

He went on to Laine Theatre Arts in London at 16. His jobs since graduating in 2007 include appearances in the West End in Grease, Shall We Dance, Chicago and Singin’ in the Rain.

Later this year Matthew makes his second appearance in Wicked, in the role of Fiyero.

Devon loves his role so much that he has only missed two weeks of the tour. He said: “It’s pretty crazy. I feel like I need to get through it. I can rest when I’m back at home.

“I don’t like to miss out, so I’m in the show all the time. It’s been fun.”

Like Matthew, Devon has seen a lot of familiar faces in the Lyceum audience.

“I had 20 people in on the first day and one or two most days. My mum’s been three or four times! It’s been great to have my family in.”

His mum started Devon’s interest in performing when she took him to his first dance class at seven.

As a child he divided his time between home in Wincobank and his nan’s house in Millhouses while his mum was working. He went to St Thomas of Canterbury and Abbeydale schools and also left home at 16 to study at Laine Theatre Arts. He was two years behind the other Sheffielder there.

West Side Story is Devon’s second big musical job since graduating.

He also appeared in Hairspray last year.

After the tour Devon goes back to London to start rehearsals for Memphis, a new production at the Shaftesbury Theatre this autumn. Starring Beverley Knight, it looks at the early US soul era in the 1950s.

West Side Story is at the Lyceum until Saturday. Box office: at the Crucible, online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call 0114 2496000.

A Night at the Movies by the Sharon Berry School of Theatre Dance runs at The Montgomery on Surrey Street from Tuesday to Saturday.

Tickets are available on 0114 2466126 or direct from the Crucible.