Regional Theatre Focus: Dominic West: Sheffield is the Rome of the north

The actor Dominic West on his love of Sheffield, the Crucible and why regional theatres are so important

Dominic West in rehearsals for Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Dominic West: 'I've had some pretty great times in Sheffield'
© Johan Persson

Sheffield was the crucible of the industrial revolution, providing knives and forks and steel for the world. But Sheffield is sort of post-industrial now, it's become much more a cultural capital. It's particularly great for music: Arctic Monkeys, Joe Cocker in the 60s, Human League in the 80s. When I was growing up there in the 70s it was in the aftermath of its industrial heyday and it was a bit depressed. But now it's come right back up and one of the main reasons is because of the Crucible theatre.

When I was there the theatre had been a victim of fraud, so had no money. It had the snooker and we'd go there for pantos, but it wasn't part of my life the way it is now. My hangouts were the pedestrianised malls on a Saturday: in Fargate you could buy a pint for 60p! It was my mum who got me into acting. She was in an amateur theatre group in Sheffield and she had seven children so she used to get us in for crowd scenes. My sisters and brothers quite liked it but I absolutely loved it. I played The Winslow Boy when I was aged nine in the Sheffield University drama studio.

Michael Grandage completely revived the whole place

There was a lot going on there when I was growing up, but that was pre-bloody Meadowhall, which is a massive shopping centre that opened in 1990. It is just outside Sheffield and a tram was set up to take everyone out of the city centre to the mall, which denuded the city centre. That's why the Crucible is so important.

The Crucible wasn't a major venue in terms of theatre until Michael Grandage took over in 1999. He completely revived the whole place and they created a square in the centre of the city in front of the theatre. In Sheffield, more than anywhere else, you can see how a theatre has revived a city centre. It shows just how vital regional theatres are to regional towns. There's a huge appetite for theatre. Every show I've known about at the Crucible has had a queue for tickets around the block. But when cuts hit, it's the arts that go first, which is misguided, because having a good cultural sector boosts the economy. I think regional theatres are more important than ever for keeping city centres alive.

Daniel Evans now runs Sheffield Theatres and I love him. Dan has a beautiful clarity of intelligence which is born out in his amazing Welsh voice. You believe him implicitly. You'd walk over hot coals for him. Having a great artistic director is so important. It raises everyone's game.

I absolutely love going back to visit and work in Sheffield. I've still got two sisters who live there, I wish I still had a place up there but my kids are all bloody Londoners now. One of my favourite memories of Sheffield was going to the gay club Dempseys with the entire cast of My Fair Lady and Graham Norton. That was a brilliant night out. I've had some pretty great times in that city. Sheffield really is the Rome of the north.

Regional Theatre Focus