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Daniel Evans: 'If we can imagine it we should be able to depict it'

Sheffield Theatres' artistic director talks Sarah Kane, toe-tapping sailors and American Buffalo

Daniel Evans is artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, and is also directing the upcoming West End production of American Buffalo
(© Craig Fleming)

Daniel Evans is artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, where his productions include An Enemy of the People, My Fair Lady, This Is My Family and Oliver!.

His latest season in Sheffield includes the forthcoming Sarah Kane Season, which will see all of Kane's work produced in either full versions, semi-staged readings or on film, and the regional premiere of Lucy Prebble's The Effect.

Other upcoming projects include a UK tour of Cole Porter's Anything Goes and the West End production of American Buffalo starring Damian Lewis.

What prompted the Sarah Kane season?
Most years we do a writer's season, which is a chance to have a more in depth experience of one writer's work and the span of their career. I'd been in two of Sarah Kane's plays when they premiered, so because of my connection with her she'd been in my thoughts for a long time. I thought it would be amazing to do that kind of event but because the plays are so powerful and provocative, it felt like we needed to get some sort of momentum going first.

You're not directing any of the full productions in the season. Was that a conscious decision?
It was. Being in both premieres were very profound experiences for me, particularly perhaps 4.48 Psychosis because Sarah had died by then. I felt that I probably couldn't ever get away from that experience and it would be unfair on the actors, so it was about distance. I also wanted to give other people opportunities to come into contact with the work, to have totally new eyes on all the three productions. At the same time I did feel like I wanted to be part of it and that's why I'm directing the two readings.

What do you think Sarah would have thought of all of her works being put on in this season?
I hope it's done in the spirit of wanting to honour her and her work and it's also done in the spirit of wanting to give the Sheffield audience a very challenging, very bleakly funny dark comedy, to give them something that's very different to our previous writer's seasons. I don't know what she would say — she was always unexpected so you never know, but I hope she would be honoured.

Fight directors Ruth Cooper-Brown and Rachel Cristi Bown-Williams and actors Martin Marquez and Jessica Barden rehearse Blasted
(© Mark Douet)

Matt Trueman recently questioned whether or not Kane's plays still have the power to shock. What are your thoughts on that?
I think, strangely, they do; as our world develops they seem to me to be more and more pertinent, particularly as the gap between rich and poor expands, as governments and multinational corporations seem to be more and more in cahoots and particularly as we are facing the kind of fanaticism coming out of the Middle East. All of those things are touched on in the plays in a very prescient way.

There's the obvious thing of the images her plays depict - I think they are still shocking and I hope they always be because they are shocking images. Sarah believed there was nothing you couldn't represent in the theatre, and I love that. I think if we can imagine it we should be able to depict it. Good plays always reveal themselves differently in different times and I know these will do just that.

Your production of Anything Goes is just starting its UK tour - what preparations do you make for a tour?
We knew that we were touring right from the beginning of the production; it was always the plan to share the work we make in Sheffield, so the design and casting was all done with a tour in mind. We hope that there won't be too much of a shift in terms of the physical elements of the production. What's nice is that all the actors, having performed it in Sheffield for six weeks, are ready for a change of scene and a change of their backstage journeys, so I'm excited.

You talk about your desire to get Sheffield's work out across the country. Would you like more of your work to come into the West End?
It's something I think about quite a bit, because it seems that at the moment we're in a culture of if things transfer they are deemed a success. We're really wary of that because we are funded to make theatre for our city, and that's what we do. Of course we want to share it with the rest of the UK and it goes on tour but primarily we make it for Sheffield. That doesn't mean to say that we're not always looking for opportunities to share the work but it's certainly not a benchmark of success for us.

Debbie Kurup and the cast of Anything Goes
(© Johan Persson)

You're directing American Buffalo in the West End starring Damian Lewis. How did that come about?
He was in the year above me at the Guildhall school. When you see people's work at drama school, you get to know them and their work quite well. We talked about it and then happily Playful Productions are producing it so I'm really thrilled. It's great for me to have a different experience, having done a big musical every Christmas for the last three years, just having three guys in a room.

You applied to be artistic director of the National Theatre, and have spoken about increasing collaboration with them. Is this still something you're interested in?
I hear that Rufus [Norris] is keen on connecting with the regions and that's fantastic. It's something that has been discussed a lot in the press recently, that if they are to be truly national our flagship organisations somehow have to connect in a meaningful way with other organisations outside the capital. It'll be interesting to see how the new regime reaches out. I have faith that it will happen because the time is right for it and I think there's a kind of public consciousness that our flagship organisations should play a wider part in the nation's ecology in each art form.

Are you open to the possibility of taking the helm at another venue?
It's really hard to say. The thing with the National is I was asked to apply. That's a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the truth of the matter is that at Sheffield I'm so lucky because we have three diverse spaces and we have an audience in the city that really appreciate and love its theatre. Whatever job I do afterwards is going to have to be pretty good because Sheffield's sort of the best job in the country.

Are there any shows you have a particular desire to work on?
The problem is there are so many! There are certainly some pieces of musical theatre that I feel like I'd love to do. One of them is Assassins, but Nikolai Foster directed it at Sheffield about eight years ago and of course we've just had Jamie [Lloyd]'s production at the Menier, so that's not happening any time soon. In terms of playwrights, I've directed two Shakespeare's at Sheffield, and I always want to reconnect with him. They are things I'm just waiting for, biding my time.

You won a WhatsOnStage Award last year for My Fair Lady, and Oliver! is nominated this year.
When we won for My Fair Lady it was pretty extraordinary for us. We were against Richard II, and we really didn't expect to win. What's lovely about the WhatsOnStage Awards is that they're voted for by the public. It's great that everyone who came felt that they wanted to vote. We're against some pretty hard hitters this year, but it's just a great honour to be recognised, and who knows what will happen.

Blasted is running at Sheffield Theatres from 4-21 February, Crave and 4.48 Psychosis run in rep from 6-21 March; Anything Goes opens at New Wimbledon Theatre on 29 January before touring across the UK; American Buffalo opens at Wyndham's Theatre on 16 April