‘When I first came here, the Crucible was still being built...’

The Crucible's first repertory company whenit opened in 1971: actor Niall Buggy is in the cardigan and glasses, far right, front row
The Crucible's first repertory company whenit opened in 1971: actor Niall Buggy is in the cardigan and glasses, far right, front row
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Appearing at the Crucible Theatre this month has brought back very special memories for Irish actor Niall Buggy.

For Niall, who is starring in Translations at the Sheffield theatre, has been here before.

He said: “I was here for nine months and part of the very first company in the theatre. I was here when the theatre was still being built and hadn’t been completed.

“I was at the very opening of the Crucible Theatre. There was a variety show, Fanfare, that we did for a couple of weeks and then we did Peer Gynt. I was only a mere 21 at the time.”

It was an exciting time for a young actor, he remembers, fresh from the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

He was invited to Sheffield by the Crucible’s first artistic director Colin George.

Niall said: “It has a very close place in my heart. It was very exciting because none of us had ever played on a stage like that.

“It was the only stage of its kind in Europe at the time.

“Tanya Moiseiwitsch was working with us, designing quite a few of the shows. She also designed the theatre. She was a lovely woman.”

However, not everyone was thrilled with the exciting new space, he recalls. “Sheffielders weren’t exactly enamoured with it because it was replacing the Playhouse, which was much more traditional. This was a whole new idea.

“It’s fantastic to see for me how it’s working now. Daniel Evans and his team have done some great stuff. It’s a great people’s theatre.

“It’s a nice space, much more intimate than the Abbey. In the audience you’re not that far away from the platform of the performance.”

Although a lot of the layout of the front of house has changed, Niall recognised the distinctive carpet design! The original was adapted when the theatre was refurbished four years ago.

Niall remembers his parents travelling over from Dublin to see him in Sheffield: “It was a big thing for them.”

He lodged with Mr and Mrs Bohan in Crosspool and has stayed in touch with them, saying: “They became like a second family.” Niall’s catching up with the couple’s daughter Mia while he’s in Sheffield.

Niall, who was last at the Crucible in Waiting for Godot in 1975, is back in the city for a season devoted to Irish playwright Brian Friel.

He said: “I think Brian Friel is the greatest living playwright anywhere in the world, including the US and England. I think he exposes humanity on the stage more than any other playwright does.”

The actor appeared in the same play before on Broadway about seven years ago. He said: “I’m very excited to be working with director James Grieve, who is very inspiring. It’s great to take a new look at a play.”

One of Niall’s most fondly remembered TV appearances was playing an alcoholic game show host with a spectacularly bad wig in classic comedy Father Ted.

He recalls: “When we recorded it, it was only the third episode in the first series and it hadn’t gone out to the general public.

“The studio audience didn’t know what to make of it. They just sat there open mouthed.

“I remember thinking, this is either going to be the biggest flop ever ever or the biggest hit.”

Niall said that the scene where Mrs Doyle said “Go on, go on, go on” endlessly to him to persuade his character to have a sherry was the first time the character’s catchphrase was used. Famously, he has one sip of sherry and goes completely insane.

“People recognise me from that more than anything I’ve ever done. That’ll be on the gravestone,” he reckons.

Translations is set in rural Ireland in 1833.

The British Army arrives to translate Gaelic place names into the King’s English. Farm girl Máire finds herself torn between the affections of the local school teacher and the love of a British soldier, between her native tongue and a new language, between the comfort of the world she knows and the excitement of foreign possibilities.

The resulting clash of cultures strikes at the heart of the community as they struggle to interpret a new language, and each other. What gets lost in translation?

Translations is on the Crucible main stage from next Thursday to March 8.

Box office: at the theatre, online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call 0114 249 6000.