Sheffield’s Crucible: The revolutionary theater that almost got snooked | Sheffield Theaters



Eenter Sheffield’s Crucible Theater – who is currently celebrating her 50th birthday – always gives a thumbs up: There’s something about her open scene that seems to portend excitement. It helps that under its four directors this century – Michael Grandage, Samuel West, Daniel Evans, and Rob Hastie – the work has been of high quality and the audience loyally loyal. But I just read an amazing book – Stirring Up Sheffield by Colin George, the late founding director of the theater, and his son Tedd – which chronicles in deadly detail the bloody battles the building faced half a century ago. .

I first met Colin George when he was a high-class actor and contemporary with Albert Finney at the Birmingham Rep in the mid-1950s. He moved on to directing first in Nottingham and then in Sheffield where, in 1965, he succeeds Geoffrey Ost at the head of the city’s Playhouse. George had lots of new ideas, including playing in the repertoire and starting a youth company, but was stunned when he was invited to a town hall meeting in 1966 which a former Lord Mayor asked him to do. : “Now, where do you want your new theater?

Uplifting … Sheffield’s Crucible Theater. Photograph: Hufton + Crow-VIEW / Alamy

Plans were made for a main auditorium, with a projecting floor, and for a flexible studio. But the big moment, which was to have a lasting effect on Sheffield and the British theater, came when George and his ally on the Playhouse board, David Brayshaw, went on a fact-finding mission to North America. They had heard the great traveling director Tyrone Guthrie speak with missionary fervor about the supremacy of the open stage before. What they saw at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and at the Stratford Festival in Ontario convinced them that this was where the future lay. Guthrie’s own magical production of The House of Atreus persuaded them that the sculptural possibilities of the open, or thrust, stage overturned in a cocked hat the pictorial illusion of avant-stage theater.

It was a Damascene conversion and, to their credit, the council supported George’s radical vision of an open stage for the new Sheffield Theater. But that’s where the trouble started. Bernard Miles, founder of the Mermaid Theater in London, waged a hostile media campaign against the idea of ​​labeling the three-sided scene “an abortion born from street platforms set up inside rings and inns to bait bears and bulls ”. One of Sheffield’s leading newspapers, The Star, took up the cause, wondering how lounge drama as well as visiting opera and ballet would survive on the open stage. An articulate local theater lover campaigned, with almost sexual fervor, against “the scene that really grows!” Deeper than deep!

Ralf Little in The Nap at Sheffield Crucible in 2016.
Ralf Little in The Nap at Sheffield Crucible in 2016. Photography: Marc Douet

Today, it seems like a battle long won. If you look around the UK you can see that audiences respond warmly to different setups. They flock to the open stages of The Olivier, Chichester, Stratford-upon-Avon’s Swan or the circular theaters of the Royal Exchange in Manchester, the Stephen Joseph in Scarborough or the Orange Tree in Richmond, which also celebrates. its 50 years. birthday. This does not mean that the proscenium theater is dead. But there’s a lot less fun sitting in a three-tier space, where the quality of your view depends on your income, than in one of those wraparound auditoriums where spectators live in the same space as the actors.

Those merchants of doom who thought the Crucible would only be suitable for certain types of play have also turned out to be ridiculously wrong. It works perfectly for an epic drama like Schiller’s Don Carlos, which looked more at home in Sheffield than London’s West End. Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son, a classic Edwardian play from the Theater of Illusion, sat comfortably in the crucible. New work, most notably Richard Bean’s The Nap, which pays homage to the Crucible’s hosting of the snooker, never seems overwhelmed by space.

George’s candid memories end with nostalgia with the untimely departure of himself and his creator, Tanya Moiseiwitsch. But even though the book shows that pioneers often pay a price for their vision, it also proves that they are time righteous and that only closed minds stand against the open scene.


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