FOR Sinead Matthews there is special poignancy in returning to the Crucible because it was here that she made her first professional stage appearance as Abigail in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in 2004/5.
Now she is appearing in Restoration comedy The Way of the World as Millamant, the heroine of William Congreve’s tale of morals, money and romantic intrigue.
“I like to think I have learned a few things since then,” says the actor.
Descriptions of the play often refer to Millament as a “coquette” which suggests she’s flirty and girlish but Matthews thinks there is a lot more to her than that.
“She is incredibly headstrong and a bit of a whirlwind,” she says. “I often look at what others say about my character as a way of seeing how they are described. She is never described as being silly.”
Millamant is an heiress much desired by all around her – “loved by thousands” – but especially the rakeish anti-hero, Mirabell, whom she strings along.
“That’s what I found shocking when I read it and when I first thought about it,” she says. “How money defines who you are but that’s the way it was. A lot of people want her because of the money. You have to have the looks and the personality but without the money, forget it.”
Matthews comes to Sheffield “in the middle” of a project with the famous Theatre Complicite, The Master and Margarita, an adaptation of the Russian novel by Mikhail Bulgakov which will play at the Barbican in March and then tour abroad.
“It’s an incredible technical challenge with multi-media elements and puppetry. We did three shows in Plymouth and in Luxembourg and then we’ve got two months off before the Barbican which is how I have been able to do The Way of the World,” explains the actor.
Prior to that Matthews was in the Mike Leigh play, Ecstasy, in the West End which proved quite a challenge. “It was a revival of a play first performed in 1979 and it was the first time he had ever done anything like that because he is used to starting from scratch with everything he does. He knew the characters better than we the actors did; it was like he was revisiting old friends.
“It was difficult but I felt safer because I had worked with him before and I felt I knew the character I was doing and he also knew her,” says Matthews, who appeared in Leigh’s films Vera Drake (“I was the first girl to have an abortion”) and Happy Go Lucky (in the café scene at the beginning).
Another significant theatrical experience was in The Glass Menagerie at the Young Vic opposite Deborah Findlay, playing the formidable Lady Wishfort in The Way of the World.
Also in the cast was her ex-boyfriend, Leo Bill. “We knew each other since we were 16 but we broke up. I was apprehensive at first but things changed and we’re now back together.” To the extent that he is also in the cast of The Way of the World which starts previewing at the Crucible on Wednesday and runs until February 25.