IT has to be said the choice of Company as Sheffield’s ‘Christmas musical’ caused some eyebrows to be raised.
After the success of 2010’s wonderful Cockney knees-up Me & My Girl – a production fit to grace any West End stage – Sondheim’s musical comedy about a bachelor examining his life, loves and friendships in 1970 New York is a very different show.
Now in possession of several glowing reviews, Daniel is swift to defend the choice.
“It’s good to have a bit of contrast,” he says from the outset. “There’s song and dance and great moments of sassiness and wit in the show, but it’s not your average song and dance.
“It’s not Me & My Girl with a cast of 23 with dancing girls and boys. This is a company of actors that can sing. And it has fantastic songs. This is probably Sondheim’s most popular work. It said somewhere he wanted to write a show where people could come and laugh their heads off and then go home and it made them think.
“That’s what this show is: you come, you have a good time, and things will stay with you or you’ll recognise stuff about your own relationship or relationships you’ve had in the past or laugh or maybe have a slight moment of regret or even embarrassment.”
The decision to stage Company was vindicated by the results – a bright, buzzy show from a tightly-knit cast. True, it isn’t a Christmas-themed show and some of the content is not palatable for a family audience, but Daniel is first to admit that trying to please everyone is impossible.
“At the same time as Company is on we have Sleeping Beauty in the Lyceum and very young children can go and see Hare & The Tortoise in the Studio,” he points out.
“Sometimes I get complaints because we don’t put on a play at Christmas. They say ‘if you don’t like panto and you don’t like musicals, what can you see?’
“At some point, someone is going to be unhappy with your choices and there’s nothing you can do about that really. All you can do is balance the work with things you think people will want to see and then hopefully you can also put on things people don’t yet know that they want to see.
“That’s a phrase (former artistic director) Clare Venables used. You can’t always programme popular stuff - although Othello proved hugely popular, which is unique to Sheffield. Other places don’t put on Shakespeare because no one comes whereas we know that is actually one of the most popular things for us.
“All you can do is programme a variety, stuff you really believe in, and I believe in this show.
“It has something special to say to us now about relationships, about how we connect with each other particularly because we live in a world of uber technology where we’re connecting constantly through Twitter, email, Facebook and actually one of the things this show asks is ‘what’s the quality of the contact?’
“That’s something I think is an interesting question for now. We are in touch with everybody all the time, but are we or are we behind our computer screens? We’re faceless. If it’s not a personal connection what is the true value of it?”
Plus, of course, Christmas is a time when relationships are revived, made or tested.
“In one way you’re forced to look at them because you go home to your family. I’ll be going home to South Wales and staying there for two nights. You’re forced to examine.”
And being in the thick of Company, playing central character Bobby, the Welshman is also prompted to look at Sheffield’s cherished stage through a jobbing actor’s eyes rather than as the creative captain, something surely vital to functioning effectively as artistic director.
“I get to be in the shop window, on the coal face. If I didn’t do that the organisation would be poorer because my insight would be lessened.
“And imagine an artistic director who didn’t direct. One of the brilliant things about being in a company here is you really get to know what the actor’s experience is like and the actor’s experience has to be a pleasurable one.
“Imagine if actors came to us and had a miserable time. Very quickly word would get around. So it’s important to me actors come and have a really excellent, fulfilling time with us.”
Starring in Company is also a chance to look directly into the whites of the eyes of a paying South Yorkshire public that doesn’t hold back.
“If they’ve seen you in something they’re much more ready to come up and say ‘I really enjoyed that’ or ‘it didn’t really do it for me’ than when you’re directing. You’re more visible, I guess. And that can be good and bad. We had four walk out of The Pride (Daniel’s last acting role, in the Studio). One guy walked during the rape scene and I think he said ‘it’s disgusting’ on his way out, which is very good of him.
“But one of the things I love about this city is the people are honest and direct. That’s sometimes hard because you have to deal with people saying ‘I hated that’ or ‘why the hell did you put on that?’.
“At least you have a dialogue; you know where you are. I’d rather have that than not know who the audience were because it’s important to get that feedback, to know what people get off on.”
Timing’s right for revival
THE seeds for a Sheffield revival of Company were planted long before Daniel Evans was even in the frame for filling theatre seats in Tudor Square.
“It was something the director, Jonathan Mumby, and I had talked about four years ago in New York. I was doing Sunday In The Park With George on Broadway, Jonathan came to see it and the next day and he said there’s a couple of things I would like to do.
“I said there were a couple of things I’d like to do. This was one of them, so we said why don’t we do it together.
“A year later I was running Sheffield Theatres and I said this would be good to do on that stage, but the seeds were planted before I even thought of applying, before the advert was even out.”
Either way, the timing of Company has worked well with regard to the Crucible’s 40th birthday celebrations.
“Forty years ago the show won the Tony Award for best musical and the building is 40 years old, so I thought it would interesting to look back at that period in time. That’s a bit of icing on the cake, not why we’re doing it.
“I’ve done two Sondheim musicals before and another musical in concert so I connect with his work. Also this is one of his most tuneful shows, a great contrast to Me & My Girl and Othello.”
The show brought musical debuts for two of its female cast members, namely Francesca Annis and Claire Price, the latter back after her award-winning role in The Pride.
He discovered Claire could sing when they appeared together nine years ago in The Tempest at the venue.
“I always remember Claire singing in the shower, Billy Joel’s New York State Of Mind. Such a sweet voice and her pitch was perfect,” says Daniel.
“The director had worked with her before on classical play The White Devil and we both said wouldn’t Claire be amazing.”
Although Daniel influenced that casting he’s swift to indicate that in Company he is there to act, not control.
“I definitely do my utmost to make sure the director feels he’s in charge of the room otherwise it would be very undermining. At the same time I want the cast to come to me if there’s a problem.
“I’d never want them to feel like my concentration isn’t in the room. I know there’s some stuff has to be put on hold while I’m in rehearsal, programming stuff. But I have a brilliant team and I go home and reply to my emails so it all can tick over.
“I hate rehearsing in London, it’s impossible not being here, but sometimes we have to do it to get the kind of actors we want.”
Daniel’s wishlist of plays for Sheffield gets longer
SINCE taking on the job at Sheffield Theatres Daniel Evans has delivered a varied programme that has helped put the Crucible back on the map, even if not all have been runaway successes.
He reopened the theatre with Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, with Evans directing Sir Anthony Sher. He has also directed Racing Demon and starred in two other shows.
But he says his wishlist of plays for Sheffield has got longer, not shortened.
“I had to give myself that ‘time off’ after directing Enemy, just to get to know how the theatre was going to work. It was a new building, a huge learning curve; not even a curve, it was perpendicular.
“Then having spent the rest of the year observing and obviously doing office work and supervising other productions I thought ‘actually let’s see what it’s like if I do four shows in a year’.”
Of the shows already announced for 2012, season closer Harold Pinter’s Betrayal sees John Simm return to the stage where he played Hamlet last year.
William Congreve’s classic Restoration comedy about morals, money and everything, The Way Of The World, is first on from February 2 while other highlights include a season dedicated to multi-award-winning playwright Michael Frayn, including the plays Copenhagen, Benefactors and Democracy.
In the Studio, the theatre will co-produce Kaite O’Reilly’s LeanerFasterStronger with Chol Theatre as part of iMove, a Yorkshire Cultural Olympiad programme. The Crucible also becomes the home of the first International Student Drama Festival.
“I think I’m starting to get the measure. It does take that time to see how it works. There’s a lot of aspects to it and I feel now like we’re ready to get airborne,” said Daniel.
THE Lyceum begins its new season with ballet The Nutcracker from January 10, followed by highlights The King and I, Rhinestone Mondays, Brendan Cole: Live and Unjudged, Legally Blonde The Musical, The Sound of Music, Beauty And The Beast, All The Fun Of The Fair, Swallows and Amazons, An Inspector Calls, Wonderful Town and Birds Of A Feather.