Director’s back in the city that inspired career

Beth Cooke and John Conroy  in  Translations, Crucible Theatre.
Beth Cooke and John Conroy in Translations, Crucible Theatre.
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Director James Grieve has returned to Sheffield to put on a play that he first read as a university student in the city.

He is directing Translations at the Crucible as part of the current season celebrating the work of Irish playwright Brian Friel.

James was an English literature student at the University of Sheffield when he first came across the play around 2000.

He said: “That was an amazing year of people who went on to work in the theatre.

“Michael Grandage had a lot to do with it when he was Sheffield Theatres artistic director.

“The first thing he did was make student tickets £1. The work he produced was so accessible and illuminating. He filled this theatre and opened its doors.”

The co-artistic director at Paines Plough theatre company, who also co-founded the nabokov theatre group and has worked as associate director at the Bush Theatre in London, joked that he has told Michael Grandage that is all his fault.

James said of Translations: “It is a genuine classic, although it’s only 24 years old. It’s been on at the National Theatre for two different productions and on Broadway three times.

“There’s a production on almost all the time. It’s struck an enormous amount of resonance with people the 
world over, so it’s become canonical.”

He said the play touches on universal themes transcending the setting in 19th-century Ireland: “It could be set in a small town in the Peak District. The characters are instantly recognisable.

“Politically, it chooses to talk about the British intervention in Ireland, in the same way that Sheffield is about English politics. You can choose to go into that or choose not to. You can decide whether you’re interested or not.

“At its heart the play is about human beings. It’s an extraordinary story about this Irish farm girl and a British soldier that’s basically Romeo and Juliet, cutting across borders. If you have lovers from the wrong side of the tracks, it’s hard not to be.

“It’s a story of young people being told they’re not allowed to have anything to do with each other and being in love nonetheless.”

James days that there are a lot of other recognisable stories in the play. “When the British soldiers turn up for the first time, you have new people coming into a community and trying to change everything. It’s full of that great 
Irish tradition of storytelling.”

James said he has enjoyed returning to the city that inspired his career. “When you walk out of that station with the fountains and the Andrew Motion poetry on the side of the building, it feels like a major European city these days.”

But it hasn’t lost its charm. He said: “What I loved about Sheffield is that it was a village. You can walk everywhere and the people are incredibly friendly. I remember the music scene was amazing: I saw every band you could see at the Leadmill.

“It’s a city I absolutely adore. I’m very excited to be back here.”

Translations is at the Crucible until March 8. Box office: at the venue, call 0114 2496000 or go to