‘Bit bonkers’: actors to perform in three plays in three Sheffield theatres at once

Actors will simultaneously perform three plays in three theatres as part of an “ambitious” dramatic experiment to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sheffield Crucible and its sister venues.

In what is thought to be a theatrical first, the Crucible, Lyceum and Studio theatres will concurrently stage a trilogy of dramas featuring one set of characters. An actor who comes off stage in one theatre will appear within moments on stage in another theatre.

Robert Hastie, the artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, is using spreadsheets and sticky notes to ensure the “the most ambitious project we have ever staged” does not result in chaos.

“It’s a bit bonkers. We don’t quite know if it’s going to work. We’ve got faith in ourselves and in the people we work with, but it’s going to mean a lot of people putting on their trainers and sprinting between theatres,” Hastie said.

It will be a “mental challenge and a physical endurance test” for the actors, but he hopes they will “take the idea and run with it”.

The modern, brutalist Sheffield Crucible – the renowned venue for the world snooker championships as well as theatrical productions – replaced the city’s Playhouse, opening its doors 50 years ago this week.

“The Playhouse was a proscenium arch theatre, that was what the audiences understood. And here was a new building that put a thrust stage in the middle of an auditorium,” said Hastie.

“These days we’re really used to three-sided and four-sided spaces. But in the 1960s, when the plans for the Crucible were being drawn, there were very few theatres in this country that weren’t a traditional end-on proscenium arch.

“It was a big gamble as to whether audiences would take it to their hearts. And there was a lot of resistance at first. Now if you suggested knocking it down and replacing it with something else, there’d be campaigns and demonstrations to keep it, it’s such a central part of the city’s cultural life.”

The trilogy marking the half-centenary is Rock/Paper/Scissors, written by Chris Bush, an award-winning Sheffield-born playwright whose previous works include Standing at the Sky’s Edge, HungryThe Assassination of Katie Hopkins.

It tells the story of Sheffield’s oldest scissor manufacturer, and three generations who fight over the factory site.

“Chris is fascinated by our relationship to the physical spaces we inherit,” said Hastie. “So in our post-industrial northern cities, what do we do with the architecture that once housed the industrial engines of the country?

“That doesn’t mean the stories are unique to Sheffield, or limited to Sheffield. Like the Sheffield steel, the scissors that form the backstory of the play, we hope it’ll be something that gets picked up around the world.”

Hastie wanted to ensure that the 50th anniversary “embraced all of our complex of buildings”: the modern Crucible and Studio, and the traditional Lyceum across the square. Hence the Rock/Papers/Scissors trilogy, which will have a 19-day run next summer.

“The three plays exist independently of each other, each story is self-contained. But the audience will be aware of the whole project. Hopefully, that gets them a bit closer to the workings of the whole complex. It’s not just about what happens on stage.”

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