Just two years after succeeding Michael Grandage (See News, 22 Oct 2004), actor-turned-director Samuel West (pictured) is stepping down as artistic director of Sheffield Theatres. He will leave in April at the end of his current 2006/7 season and ahead of a planned 14-month closure of Sheffield Crucible for refurbishment.

A statement released today said that the “decision was reached by mutual consent of both West and Sheffield Theatres Trust” yesterday (20 December 2006) – as the Crucible and Crucible Studio (though not the next door Sheffield Lyceum) will be closed for what would have been a significant portion of the 2007/8 season, “it was agreed that this was a good point to allow West to leave and pursue other projects”. He’s been invited to become an associate artist, as Grandage was before him, and to return to the reopened Crucible stage as an actor or director.

Speaking today, CEO Angela Galvin said: “I’d like to thank Sam for his wonderful generosity, enthusiasm and creativity during the past two years. As an actor, director and colleague Sam has been a real boon to me, to the theatres and to the city.” Chair Paul Allen added: “The sheer quality of acting and production this season has had a consistent excellence which equals anything seen on the Crucible stage in its 35-year history, and anything currently available in British theatre.”

Commenting on his departure, West said: “The Crucible is an incredible theatre. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time as artistic director, working with some extraordinarily talented people and getting to know this wonderful city. I wish Angela and the team well with the refurbishment. In the short term, I feel that it’s time for me to explore other creative opportunities.”

West launched his Sheffield tenure with a 2005/6 season that included the first major revival of Howard Brenton’s controversial The Romans in Britain as well as the world premiere of Tanika Gupta’s Gladiator Games (See News, 23 Jun 2005). Highlights to date of the 2006/7 season have included the regional premiere of Caryl Churchill’s A Number, in which West starred with his father Timothy West; a season celebrating Harold Pinter including a production of The Caretaker, starring Nigel Harman, David Bradley and Con O'Neill, that transfers to London in the new year (See News, 15 Dec 2006); and currently, the musical Fiddler on the Roof, starring Henry Goodman.

Still to come (See News, 25 Aug 2006), West will direct Eve Best in As You Like It, running at Sheffield from 7 to 24 February 2007 before moving to Stratford-upon-Avon in March as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s year-long Complete Works Festival. West will depart following the season’s final production, Chekhov’s 1904 classic The Cherry Orchard, directed by Jonathan Miller and starring Joanna Lumley as Madame Ranevskaya. It runs from 20 March to 7 April 2007 (previews from 14 March).

The son of actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales, Samuel West’s many acting credits include: on film, Van Helsing, Cambridge Spies, Iris, Howard's End, Notting Hill, Complicity, Carrington, Stuff Upper Lips, Hornblower and Persuasion; and on stage, A Life in the Theatre, Arcadia, Hidden Laughter, The Sea, Mr Cinders, The Importance of Being Earnest, Henry IV and Richard II. For his last London stage appearance, the title role in Steven Pimlott’s 2001 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, West won both the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Shakespearean Performance and the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoer’s Choice Award for Best Actor.

Although he has always continued to act, since Hamlet, West has more often concentrated his stage efforts on directing. Prior to Sheffield, his directorial debut came in 2002 with The Lady’s Not for Burning at Chichester Festival, which was followed by Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Bristol Old Vic), an Olivier-nominated English National Opera production of Cosi Fan Tutte (Barbican) and the world premiere of Three Women and a Piano Tuner at Chichester and London’s Hampstead Theatre.

A Sheffield Theatres spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com that there are no immediate plans to advertise the artistic director vacancy, though West’s successor will be in place well ahead of the Crucible’s reopening, scheduled for March 2009. Following West’s departure and ahead of the theatre’s closure, one further main-house production is planned for autumn 2007 and will be announced in the new year.

- by Terri Paddock