Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sheffield's new superstar...

... in the theatre world, at least, is Mister Samuel West. As new Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, he's got pretty large shoes to fill because Michael Grandage is, let's face, now untouchable. Southerners will know him as the guy who got Ewan McGregor onto the stage, but up North he's credited with pretty much single-handedly re-invigorating theatre in 'the provinces'. What a horrible, horrible phrase. But anyway, while this is probably to overlook the artistic directors at, say Manchester's Royal Exchange or Chichester Festival Theatre, his influence has undeniably been huge.

So long, Michael; enter Sam. And good luck.

At least he's started off on the right foot because, well, he's the right person for the job. Young, passionate and apparently infinitely knowledgable about plays and playwrights old and very new - two plasy for this season are not even written yet - and, something which we audiences seem to love, also an actor, his appointment to the post was met with, literally, a universal smile. Too many clauses in that sentence. Anyway, my point is that rather than facing a post-Grandage slump, it seems that Sheffield Theatres are only going to get better.

Why am I so sure? Because yesterday I attended a talk by West and Josie Rourke, the director of the first show of the season, Much Ado About Nothing ('yay' - David, 'boo' - Lisa ;)) in which West plays Benedict. They both spoke with incredible enthusiasm and knowledge about the season they have programmed (Rourke is involved as she is Associate Director). Vitally, they have encouraged me and my family to go to those few productions we overlooked in the brochure. West said he didn't want anything as 'cutsie' as a theme for the season, but one has emerged anyway - and that's simply stories that need to be told. War, unsurprisingly features heavily, from 'Romans In Britain' to 'The Long, The Short and The Tall'. It's a fascinating and incredibly challenging season - it seems that West is eternally grateful for Grandage putting him in the position where the audience will go with him 'anywhere', somewhere he seems determined to go.

So what else came out of the talk. Well, the first question asked was about the plays he would not want to leave having not done. West ummmed and ahhhed for a while, saying there are so many, then threw in a casual 'I'd be very surprised if I left Sheffield not having played Hamlet again'. Sam West. Hamlet. IN SHEFFIELD. Eat that, London. Not that it's a competition of course.... Later a member of the audience asked whether West valued the use of 'big names', and, thankfully, he said that while he loved to use the 'top tier' of young British acting, of course he saw the value of bringing, say, Derek Jacobi back - who is very keen to do so, it seems. And his parents....? Well, he didn't want to do it this season, but he could imagine doing Carol Churchill's 'A Number' - Tim West could play the father and Sam could play the three cloned sons. He talks about this, and playing Hamlet, as if it's nothing extraordinary, but there's a glint in his eye.

He knows, and now so do we, that the next few years are gonna be pretty special.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

I think I still get the Sheffield info after my three visits in a week last year (to see "the Crucible") and I will definitely look out for the Hamlet info.

Great call btw and really good post (as ever!)

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AnnaWaits said...


Lisa, thanks muchly! Make sure you get to Sheffield this season, even if a certain actor isn't appearing ;) Heehee.

jellybean said...

Hi Anna,

Found your site through Technorati - 'tis nice to know I'm not the only one blogging about Samuel West!

Have you seen The Romans in Britain? it's been getting very mixed reviews.

My blog is
and my spurting about Sam can be found here