When James Grieve got a call from Daniel Evans asking him if he would like to direct Brian Friel’s Translations at the Crucible, it was like being told he had won the lottery, he says.
“It felt like the perfect alignment of the perfect play in the perfect theatre.” he elaborates.
“I have known Daniel for a long time and he knew that I had always wanted to direct here. But he had no way of knowing that Translations was one of my favourite plays. I read it at university around 2000 and loved it.”
The joint artistic director of Paines Plough and former artistic director of Nabokov, and associate director of The Bush in London studied at the University of Sheffield.
During that time he directed a student production of Kitchen in the Crucible Studio after approaching “with the arrogance of youth” Grahame Morris and Michael Grandage, who ran Sheffield Theatres in those days.
“To my astonishment they said, ‘all right, go on, show us what you’ve got’.
“That was my first time directing in a proper theatre and one I had been coming to for a couple of years as a student and loved it and I think that was a big part in me going on and becoming a director, actually given the opportunity to direct in a professional theatre and to get that buzz so this has always been my home as director really.”
He now makes his debut in the Main House of which he became “ a real fan boy” watching the productions of Michael Grandage.
“I had never seen theatre done like that, I thought his work was so beautiful, so clear and so exciting. I saw his As You Like It, I think, seven times because he did this brilliant thing of a £1 ticket for students. It was one of the first things he did when he came here and I couldn’t believe my luck to watch incredible actors in top class productions for a pound so I just kept coming back.
“It’s the stage I most want to direct on,” he continues. “I run workshops for young directors quite a lot now and I always open by asking them if they could direct on any stage in the world what would it be? Once they have given their answer I give them mine and it’s the Main House at the Sheffield Crucible.”
Translations is set in 19th century rural Ireland in which a farm-girl finds herself torn between the affections of the local schoolteacher and the love of a soldier in the British Army which arrives to translate Gaelic place names into the King’s English.
“It premiered in Derry 1980,” relates Grieve, “and at the time was very controversial politically because it is a metaphor for the Troubles at that time but also of the history of English and Irish relations but what Friel does so brilliantly is that the politics is unobtrusive, it’s really a universal story in which you can choose to identify with and engage the political themes.
“You don’t need to know about the history of Ireland or be interested in it or care, even to get involved in this play. At the heart of it is a love story which is straight out of Romeo and Juliet, an Irish girl and an English soldier cross the borders and fall in love and cause havoc by doing so. It’s a story about a community into which strangers arrive and everything changes. And a version of that story has been told throughout the ages, everyone recognises it and understands it.
“It has lots of real characters and we are going to do a big ceilidh in the middle of it There’s lots of music and lots of laughter and lots of storytelling. The wonderful thing about Irish theatre and playwrighting is that mastery of storytelling and communities that are based on storytelling. There are some great characters in this who sit around and spin yarns and it’s wonderful to spend time in their company.”
Translations is at the Crucible Theatre from Thursday, February 13, to March 8.