DIRECTING Hobson’s Choice at the Crucible, Christopher Luscombe was previously in Sheffield when he acted alongside Hollywood star Raquel Welch in The Millionairess at the Lyceum.
“That was what put me on to directing,” he says. “She wasn’t terribly confident about her abilities on stage and wanted one of the group to sort of mentor her. I thought it was an opportunity so I coached her on tour. And it was a joy working with her and to see her get better which she did. I suddenly thought, do you know, I like doing this, and so I became a director.”
He has since built up an impressive list of credits from musicals The Rocky Horror Show and Spamalot to Shakespeare at The Globe in London, from intimate reviews with Fascinating Aida to tours of Oscar Wilde.
And now he turns his hand to the classic northern comedy by Harold Brighouse. “When Daniel (Evans) rang me out of the blue and asked if I’d like to direct Hobson’s Choice I was able to tell him genuinely that it was one of my desert island plays.”
One of his first decisions was to cast Barrie Rutter, artistic director of Northern Broadsides, as Hobson, the autocratic Victorian boot shop owner who meets his match in his own daughter. “Casting Barrie was a flash of inspiration,” says Luscombe. “When I was a student he was doing all those things at the National long before Northern Broadsides. I remember seeing him in Guys and Dolls when I was working there as an usher.”
As a blunt Yorkshireman used to directing large casts including himself he might be a somewhat intimidating figure for a director.
“I am used to dealing with big stars,” responds Luscombe. “I’ve directed Alison Steadman and Maureen Lipman and Elaine Paige and acted with Raquel Welch. You cannot go in all apologetic, you just get on with the play.”
And it is an extremely well-crafted piece of work, he ventures. “It’s a Rolls-Royce play. I have directed some great plays but not one that seems so perfect. It’s a comic version of King Lear.
“There’s a profundity about the father-daughter relationship and what it says about getting on in life and about making your way in the world that is completely timeless. I think it’s very specific to Salford but you could do it in Outer Mongolia and it would still work.”
Is there much new that you can do with a play like Hobson’s Choice, however? “We have to focus on that world and what he has put on the page and allow the play to speak,” says Luscombe. “What I don’t want is to be gimmicky and make it about me. It’s me and a particular group of actors doing the play now and in that sense it’s never going to be like any other production.”
Luscombe was an actor for 17 years, so does he miss the buzz of performing?
“I don’t crave acting,” he insists, “but out of the blue I got a call last year asking if I would like to be in a film about Mrs Thatcher with Meryl Streep. I mean, who can resist that?
“ I played a voice coach she consulted to improve her diction so it was a scene with just me and Meryl Streep. It was quite challenging because the director, Phyllida Lloyd, an old friend, was keen that the scene should be improvised. I was very nervous because I hadn’t acted for eight years but as soon as I met her I felt at ease, she was so funny and unpretentious.”
But it was a brief diversion from directing. “I have directed four Alan Bennett plays and I am about to do another, The Madness of King George, for the Peter Hall season in Bath with David Haig and then next year I go to America to do Hay Fever in Minneapolis.”
Hobson’s Choice begins previews at the Crucible Theatre on May 26.