THE last time Chris Luscombe worked in Sheffield he had grown men using coconut shells to make the sound of horses cantering.
The actor-turned-director may have landed grown up props for his version of Hobson’s Choice but he’s still hearing plenty of laughter in the auditorium.
Chris makes his directorial debut for Sheffield Theatres with the Harold Brighouse classic – a stark contrast to the touring Spamalot at the Lyceum last year.
“Although I have done quite a few musicals I’ve also done quite a few classic comedies in my time,” he says, recalling a couple of visits across Tudor Square with The Rocky Horror Show.
“I would regard Hobson’s Choice as being in the top 10 comedies of all time. That’s my obsession in life, classic comedy.
“I didn’t want it to feel like an old warhorse. I want it to feel fresh and putting it on the Crucible thrust stage gives it freshness. It’s like an arena and feels really good for debate. There’s a lot of argument in the play.
“It’s obviously been done many times, but to me it feels so vivid and vibrant and punchy, like it’s got all the energy of 100 years ago when Brighouse wrote it. It’s a dynamic piece of writing.
“Because he wrote about a world he knew, Lancashire in the 1880s when he was growing up, it’s so specific, yet it seems to have a universal appeal. This is our heritage, a play like this. Every generation should rediscover it.”
Chris arrived in Sheffield fresh from the West End with When We Are Married, comparable in a way because it is also a northern play about a family.
In Hobson’s he has to direct the inimitable Barrie Rutter, also an accomplished director, in the lead role of the controlling father.
“If you are going to be a director you take on the challenge of big personas and I’ve directed many well known people,” says Chris.
“Also Barrie’s a good actor and knows I really rate him. That helps. I offered this to him because he was the right man for the job. He’s brilliant casting.
“I think in a way we’re soul-mates; we understand each other.”
Even so, Chris recognises he has to work almost like the manager of a talented football team.
“It’s very similar and I love that side of it, the psychology, the fact you have to deal with them all in slightly different ways; tough with some and affectionate with some, cajole and chivvy, but I love that challenge. They are a very disparate group; it makes it like a family really.
“But the star of the show is Brighouse. I want it to be true to his vision. You don’t want to mess with a piece like this.
“It’s not a vehicle for my directorial flourishes, I want to present it in the best way to tell the story and the audience to be excited by it.”