Meet Daniel Evans - Sheffield's leading man of the theatre

PUBLISHED: 19:17 04 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:28 20 February 2013

Daniel Evans

Daniel Evans

When he's not frolicking half naked across the stage, he's directing one of our biggest TV stars. Sheffield's leading man of the theatre talks to Chris Titley

Daniel Evans is a busy man. As artistic director hes responsible for running Sheffield Theatres which, comprising the Crucible, the Lyceum and the Studio, adds up to the largest theatre complex outside London. If that wasnt enough hes directed four shows himself this year thats probably quite extreme, he admits. And occasionally hell smear on the greasepaint himself and act in a production or two.

Last Christmas audiences did get to see me frolicking around semi-naked with an air hostess when he starred as Bobby in Stephen Sondheims Company a role which won him a Theatre Awards UK nomination for Best Performance in a Musical. I really believe that artistic buildings should be run by artists, Daniel says. If Im honest Im more interested in directing at the moment but because I am an actor I think its nice for our audiences to get to see me get up there and do it as well.

His award nomination was one of four for Sheffield Theatres, with Company also being shortlisted for Best Musical Production, and Lungs by Duncan Macmillan for Best New Play. On the night they won one honour, Aiden McArdle named Best Supporting Performance for his portrayal of an East German spy in Michael Frayns play, Democracy. Every year we do a writer season, we dedicate all three of our spaces to one living British writer. This year it was Michael Frayn. So its lovely that some element of that season, in the form of Aiden McArdle, has been recognised.

To receive so many nominations little more than three years since he became artistic director must give him satisfaction. It is nice to have that kind of recognition on that national stage, says Daniel. Its going well. One always feels theres so much more to do. Im not particularly one for resting on any laurels.

The size of his task is onerous providing live entertainment in three very different venues for audiences of around 7,000 people per week.
The thing that Im passionate about is the variety. We have three spaces and at some point in the year we want to reach everyone in the city region.

That may be through the major Shakespeare production every autumn, the big Christmas show or the regional premiere of a new play which allows them to be quite daring with work that feels very contemporary and edgy.

Our mission is to move people to somehow change their lives, either by giving them a great night out or to make them think about the world differently or to make them feel better about themselves by recognising on stage what they might be having trouble with in their own lives.

Daniel has brought some internationally-acclaimed actors to Sheffield. Last year two of the stars of lauded US TV series The Wire, Dominic West and Clarke Peters, led a triumphant Othello at the Crucible. Does the artistic director use the power of his personality to bring such class acts to Yorkshire?

If Im honest I think the answers more simple: we ask them, he says, but we ask them always in the hope that the part will fire their imagination.

Dominic had always wanted to play Iago. Hes a Sheffield boy, he grew up just outside Sheffield.

Thats whats important to us its not how famous they are, but how they marry with the part. And I think thats what our audiences enjoy.
Dominic West is back from December 13th playing the part of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. How does Daniel rate his leading man? I think hes Premier League! He seems to me to be able to do everything, which is rather annoying.

He can sing, he can do television, he does film, he does theatre hes a polymath, hes incredibly bright, a great company member, a great physical presence in any rehearsal room and on any stage.

Daniel is the director of My Fair Lady. Its a film beloved by the public, but does that make staging a new version easier or more difficult? I think a bit of both. Its a pleasure to work on something thats so well-crafted. Its possibly the best musical structure ever written, and probably helped by the fact that its based on an extraordinary play by an extraordinary writer in George Bernard Shaw.

On the other hand people know it very well, people know the film very well; to find ways to make it original and to feel contemporary and to speak to our audiences now is a challenge because people are so familiar with it.

Another movie adaptation follows next year. The Full Monty arrives in the Lyceum in February, at a time of similar hardship to that which surrounded the 1997 original. Its partly why were doing it now, Daniel says. Its about a group of men who are at a loss the industry has closed and they have to be inventive about surviving.

Its set in the early 1990s, another time of austerity and I hope those parallels wont be lost on our audience.
The artistic director says hes hugely concerned about cuts to the arts budget, and compares the billions spent on the London Olympics to the comparatively small arts budget for the rest of the country. Generally this is felt throughout the regions, that for a very small investment in the arts, and Im talking government subsidy, there is a huge return, he says.

Daniel has no plans to move on from Sheffield Theatres I feel like Ive only just arrived and has huge ambitions for the venue. One of the things I want to do is create international links, those discussions are underway. Im not going to say who or where it is at the moment, but it would be great to take our work to the international stage as well.

We want to tour our work more, and make it to the capital more.
But also we want to be able to programme more audacious work, and perhaps not all of it within the building so look out.

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