The ‘Pied Piper’ of Crucible early years

Rex Doyle
Rex Doyle

Rex Doyle, who introduced thousands of Sheffield children to theatre and was a much-loved creative stalwart in the first two decades of the Crucible, has died at the age of 80.

Among those who paid tribute to him this week were the writer and broadcaster Rony Robinson who recalled him as the founder (with Meg Jepson) of Sheffield Youth Theatre and an “actor, writer, director, teacher and producer who was given to giggling.

“Because he had started in the days of weekly rep, people sometimes made the mistake of thinking he was old-fashioned. He was more complex and advanced than they realised.”

Film and theatre director David Leland, then on the Crucible staff, said: “Rex was a Pied Piper. Where he led, all willingly followed. Actors wanted to work with him – the ultimate accolade for a director.

“He could conjure a play in record time, writing on his typewriter at the kitchen table, chatting, making breakfast for the family and me. All at the same time. There was a naivety to the man, an enviable creative intelligence and behind it all a wickedly sharp sense of humour.”

Rex Doyle arrived in Sheffield from Farnham Rep, Surrey, in 1973 to take over the directorship of the Studio Theatre and the Crucible’s education and community company, Theatre Vanguard.

His pioneering work included One Day in Sheffield in June 1977, possibly the earliest example of “verbatim” theatre in which every word spoken by the actors had been heard and written down by the cast and Rony Robinson at a range of events on a single day in May.

Robinson said: “Rex always stuck by the show, and held it together when we were afraid it was falling apart, and was endlessly good natured, endlessly inventive and always ready to cut to the chase when decisions had to be taken to get the show on.”

A further pioneering work was the Jokers trilogy, written by Robinson with Paul Allen, a “soap opera with music” commissioned to tour to non-theatrical venues in South Yorkshire. It featured Rita May in her first theatrical job as a miner’s widow with two problematic sons and in 1979 played venues such as Lundwood ex-Servicemen’s Club near Barnsley before a run in the Crucible Studio.

Doyle also wrote and directed a play about the dancer Nijinsky which starred the young Alan Rickman, and as an actor played Lucky in a highly-praised production of Waiting for Godot on the Crucible’s main stage.

After leaving Sheffield in the mid-80s he resumed acting, appearing in two series of Mr Bean on television, Lovejoy, and Jeeves and Wooster, and then became Senior Acting Tutor at Guildford School of Acting. In 2003 he published Staging Youth Theatre, a guide to forming a company and seeing it through to “surviving and even enjoying” the first night of a production.

Rex married the actress Sandra Voe in 1963 and they had three children, including the keyboard player in Pulp, Candida Doyle, and Magnus and Daniel. Rony Robinson added: “It was a long-surviving marriage, a lifelong love affair, and even in that he was pioneering, one of the first fathers to be hands on.”