WHATEVER the collective name for artistic directors, there was almost a complete set on the Crucible stage last week on the night the theatre celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Under the gentle prompting of Front Row’s Mark Lawson (there surely just to ensure everyone had an equal share of the time), Colin George (1971-1974), Peter James (1974-1980), Deborah Paige (1994-2000), Michael Grandage (2000-2005), Sam West (2005-2007) and the current post-holder Daniel Evans reflected on their time running the theatre and proved they could be entertaining performers as well as directors.
Only missing were the late Clare Venables, who held the post throughout the 1980s, Mark Brickman (here briefly in 1990/1) and Michael Rudman (1991-4),
Daniel Evans said later the fact that so many high achievers in the theatrical firmament were prepared to find time in busy lives to return to Sheffield for the night showed the affection and high regard in which the Crucible is held.
Differences in approach over the years emerged. While Colin George had been dead set against letting sporting philistines in, his successor Peter James seized the chance to nab world snooker after learning that Cliff Thorburn suggested the world championships should be moved to Canada, where there was a theatre with an audience on all sides of the action. He was obviously referring to Stratford, Ontario, said James, and “we said we’ve got that right here”.
Michael Grandage explained how he persuaded the likes of Kenneth Branagh and Joseph Fiennes to come to Sheffield, except it didn’t require much persuasion, he insisted.
Sam West, who left after two years when the theatre closed for refurbishment, spoke emotionally of his regrets that he hadn’t been able to stay and put on productions in non-theatrical sites.
All of them agreed that as a theatrical space it is second to none.
Grandage recalled actress Victoria Hamilton saying the reason she loved it was that you could run from one end of the stage to the other and feel the wind rushing through your hair. “That’s if you’ve got any,” quipped Daniel Evans who will soon be stepping out in the cast of Company.
The evening had begun with a dance spectacle Passing Through, gliding from the Millennium Galleries through the Winter Garden into a moonlit Tudor Square, followed by a performance of community play Lives in Art. With a cast of 55 young and old, it was a rousing spectacle which imagined the Crucible had been closed down by art-hating sceptics back in 1971. Everyone there that night was truly thankful it was pure fiction.