Sheffielder Ian France has spent decades treading the boards for amateur theatre groups in the city and he is thrilled to be appearing at the Crucible at last.
Ian, aged 57, is one of a cast of Sheffielders, ranging in age from 12 to 86, in The Sheffield Mysteries at the Crucible.
The show is a modern adaptation of the medieval mystery cycles based on Bible stories.
Set in the city, this new play, written by Sheffielder Chris Bush, takes audiences on a journey from construction to regeneration, through the seven hills, the Moor Market, building sites and football clubs, exploring famous stories with a modern Sheffield twist.
Daniel Evans is directing the play, performed by Sheffield People’s Theatre, which is Sheffield Theatres’ own amateur group.
Ian is a father of three who lives in Nether Edge. A former teacher, he now does education consultancy work and is also a non-religious celebrant, performing humanist ceremonies.
He said: “This was an opportunity not to be missed, to be on the stage at the Crucible. It’s the best regional theatre in the country and you’re able to play there. It’s lovely.”
Ian said he had been doing drama since he was at school but stopped for a while once he started teaching.
“When I was working at Park Hill Primary School the headteacher was Roger Butcher, who was keen on amateur drama, and he got me back into it,” he said.
“He died a few weeks ago. He was a lovely bloke. He got me back involved.”
Ian acted with Sheffield Playgoers for a while and then joined the Dilys Guite Players. Most recently he has performed with the 53 Theatre Group.
He said: “I’ve done quite a lot of different stuff, from Ray Cooney farce Funny Money to comedies Bouncers and Ladies’ Day, Weekend written by Michael Palin and The Memory of Water, which was more serious.”
He added: “When I was a teaching student at Sheffield Poly, those of us who were keen got roped in to do stuff. We did Hedda Gabler and Antigone.”
Ian was among a group of 12 male students who were the first to live up at Totley from 1976 to 1979. He said: “Once you got over the fact that there were 300-plus women there, it was great.”
He heard about Sheffield People’s Theatre from a friend of his daughter, who appeared in the show 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield last year.
“I thought, that sounds really interesting. When it came up this year, I decided ‘I’m going to get involved with that’.”
He has two roles. The first is Noel, who is based on Noah. He runs a market stall with his wife Anna.
Noel is worried because there is a flood coming but it is a flood of immigrants.
He said: “My character is quite bigoted at that point in the play. By the end of the act, he looks at it a lot more personally when a couple come into our market who aren’t British.
“The woman has her baby in the market. That changes Noel’s perception. He starts to think the fault is bureaucracy rather than other people.
“He shifts his anxieties toward bureaucracy and politicians.
“He thinks we’re all united in a fight, which comes out very strongly in the scene.”
Ian’s second role is as a policeman at the trial of Jesus. He interrogates a young woman who has been causing trouble and challenging authority.
“There is a rap in that scene which is completely out of all our comfort zones! I was cast to be ridiculous and they’re getting that about right.”
He has enjoyed the rehearsal process but admits it has been challenging.
“I’m so pleased to be involved but for an old git like me it’s really knackering. Originally we were rehearsing on Saturdays and two nights during the week. I wish!
“It’s been pretty full on. One night off a week has been a luxury but I wouldn’t swap it for anything.
“Working with the guys from the theatres has been such a terrific experience. They’ve been very understanding of where we’re coming from.
“They’ve been really gentle with us in terms of getting to the right place.
“I go home on a Saturday and I’m wiped out. My brain is full of dancing and singing.”
Ian has also been very impressed with the cast and the range of their talents, saying: “It’s Sheffield at its best.”
Sheffield Mysteries is on at the Crucible this week until Saturday. Tickets: from the Crucible box office in person or by calling 0114 249 6000 or online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk