NEXT month Sheffield Theatres is presenting a major retrospective of the work of David Hare, one of the most influential and prolific playwrights of post-war Britain.
Three of his plays will be performed simultaneously in the Crucible Main House, Studio and the Lyceum alongside play readings, workshops, talks and film screenings.
It follows celebrations in recent years of other contemporary playwrights, Peter Gill, Harold Pinter and Caryl Churchill in the Crucible, but artistic director Daniel Evans has gone further by giving over the Lyceum – which as a rule receives touring shows – to a home-grown production.
“I love being bold and one of the boldest statements is extending the series with one play in each space,” he explained.
David Hare, one of the most prolific of living writers with no less than 16 plays premiered at the National, was an obvious choice, he said.
He picked three plays that represent the full span of his career – Plenty, Racing Demon and Breath of Life – which turned out to have been written 12 years apart.
“And he has Sheffield connections,” pointed out the director. “Back in the late Sixties he ran the Portable Theatre Company from here which he founded with Richard Bicat, touring left-wing agitprop plays. Later when he came to Sheffield on tour he found it remained a very vibrant political city.”
There will also be play-readings and the Showroom will be showing eight of his films.
David Hare will come to Sheffield to read his play Via Dolorosa and take part in a recording of Radio 4’s Front Row, being interviewed by Mark Lawson in front of a live audience in the Studio.
“There are 48 actors, 11 musicians and 12 stage management at the theatre – and that’s not counting Propeller, who are premiering their new Shakespearean production at the Lyceum. I am very proud of that scope of artistic endeavour,” said Evans.
It is an ambitious undertaking which might not be feasible in the future of inevitable cuts in funding.
“We are still awaiting our fate from the city council and won’t know until March. My hope is we can still produce home-grown work and be able to do epic plays and produce them to the highest standard,” he insisted.
“We are one of the pre-eminent theatres in the country and have a huge impact on the local and regional economy. I have to have faith we will continue to be allowed to carry on doing that. I am trying to be positive.
“Whatever happens, we will find ways of putting on the best work.”
Although Hare is known as a political writer, do these plays have resonance in Sheffield? Evans himself is directing Racing Demon which is about the inner workings of the Church of England.
“One of the questions Racing Demon asks is Is there a god? And I bet it’s something everyone has thought about at some time,” he replies.
“Behind that question there is another one, how do we know what is right and what is wrong? Where does morality come from and is there one without God?
“For some the church is an institution which has become less relevant and for others it has become more relevant.
“That division existed when the play was originally produced in 1989-90. Since then one part of the world has become fundamental and there has also been a rise in atheism.
“Both have to ask questions about what they stand for and these questions are in the background in this play which follows four eccentric priests in one parish.
“They are basically good eggs who turn up and deliver for what they believe is the good of the community.”
Evans emphasises that it is fundamentally a very funny play. “When David went into it he had in mind a satire on the Church of England and ended up writing something affectionate and warm.”
Likewise Evans, raised a Welsh Baptist, found himself impressed. “For my research I went to the Synod where I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, speak and even from way back in the public seats I could smell his goodness.”
Racing Demon is a play that speaks beyond its world of clergymen. “I remember saying at one point during rehearsals, ‘Does anyone else think this is about a theatre company?’”
Racing Demon opens in the Crucible Main House on February 10.