Molly McGreevy talks to Sheffield Theatre’s artistic director ahead of Julius Caesar at The Crucible.
Robert Hastie and Sheffield Theatres go way back. As a child he travelled from his hometown of Scarborough to the Steel City for must-see shows. He returned in 2005, fresh out of drama school, to take to the stage in Edward Bond’s Lear – Robert’s professional acting debut.
Now, Robert is back, and this time he’s directing the action.
Following the announcement of his appointment as artistic director in 2016, Robert has been busy putting together a season featuring political thrillers, childhood classics, pioneering new plays and work by some of the country’s most exciting upcoming talent.
“I wanted to start a conversation with the audience and tell them what excites me, what interests me,” said Robert. “There is a range of productions, from a big classic Shakespeare, to new plays about exciting contemporary issues, to a regional revival. Then we’ve got an American play, a
Russian play and a big musical. I wanted to say this is the ambition of what we’re doing.”
For his debut at Sheffield Theatres, Robert has chosen a modern reimagining of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – a tale of a city in political turmoil. Some voices of the city are raised in
celebration. Some are whispering dissent. And some are foretelling disaster.
For Robert, it’s the perfect start to his first season. He said: “I knew in my heart I wanted to start with Shakespeare just because The Crucible has one of the best stages in the world for Shakespeare – I’ve been wanting to do one here for ages and couldn’t wait to get started.”
Brought forward into the modern day, Sheffield Theatres’ Julius Caesar sticks to Shakespeare’s story and script but the questions the play asks its audience seems eerily relevant to 2017 – when the majority choose a dangerous leader, what should the honourable citizen do?
“It feels like the play is about today, like it’s straight off the front pages of the newspapers. It feels like it is addressing things we’re talking about now and is putting our society on stage.''
“We’ve got a Donald Trump box in the rehearsal room and every time someone draws a comparison with Trump we put a £1 in,” said Robert. “We’ve got enough for a few pints.”
It’s the uncanny similarity to the current worldwide political climate that excites Robert about his debut. In bringing the play into the modern day, he has employed a diverse cast to
reflect society today.
“Given our Julius Caesar is set in a city that feels like a city today, we wanted it to look and feel like a city today, which means seeing the full diversity of society and making sure there’s an equal number of men and women is part of that.”
Once Julius Caesar closes, Robert will turn his attention to the rest of the season, with a particular focus on maintaining Sheffield Theatres’ glowing reputation for producing exciting new shows and developing the country’s freshest theatrical talent.
“At the same time we announced the season, we started thinking about new work we wanted to put into development. There is a really proud tradition of producing new musicals in Sheffield, so we wanted to make sure that work was continuing because that takes time.
“There have been some great new plays produced here, so we wanted to add to that – sowing those seeds so it comes to fruition in later seasons.”
Following the success of new musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Robert is excited about The Crucible’s Christmas production The Wizard of Oz.
It’s not just Sheffield Theatres’ musical output that excites Robert, he’s keen to work with the country’s best new directors. Sheffield hosted the inaugural Royal Theatrical Support Trust Director Award Scheme in 2016, which named Kate Hewitt as the winner of the award for emerging
Kate returns to Sheffield this year, to direct the regional premier of Tribes, a play about a deaf boy in a hearing family. Robert said: “Part of what Sheffield does really well is nurturing the next generation of next artists and Kate is going to be a big star, she’s got a wonderful cast together.”
Robert surely has big shoes to fill, his predecessor Dan Evans led Sheffield Theatres to being named Regional Theatre of the Year at The Stage Awards for the third time, but with such an
interesting season planned, and plans to nurture the country’s best new talent, Sheffield’s reputation for producing great theatre can only get better.
Head to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk for details on the Julius Caesar production.