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Review Round-up: People Puts Crucible on Map

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Regional powerhouse Sheffield Crucible officially reopened on Wednesday (17 February 2010, previews form 11 February) after a two-year, £15.3 million renovation (See News, 23 Sep 2009), with Ibsen’s 1882 classic An Enemy of the People, which inaugurates both the new building and the reign of new artistic director Daniel Evans, who follows in the footsteps of luminary predecessors Michael Grandage and Samuel West.

In An Enemy of the People, it’s boom town in a spa town, where visitor numbers are higher than ever and the pay-off is huge. In Evans’ revival, Antony Sher stars as Dr Tomas Stockmann, who knows the toxic secret underlying the town’s newfound wealth. If he’s concerned for the health of the people, how can he be their enemy?

The cast also features John Shrapnel, Lucy Cohu, Susannah Fielding, Trystan Gravelle, Phillip Joseph, Chook Sibtain and a company of community players. The production is designed by Ben Stones, with lighting by Tim Mitchell and music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham. It continues until 20 March 2010.

National critics were impressed by Evans’ debut as artistic director with this, his first large-scale staging. They praised his “striking”, “fascinating”, “sparky”, “timely” and “high definition” production as “a belter of a revival”. In the central role, Antony Sher’s Stockmann was described as “delightfully idiosyncratic”, “mercurial” and “excellent”, with strong support noted, particularly from John Shrapnel. With this offering, said one critic, “the new regime at Sheffield has got off to a superb start”.

  • Vicky Ellis on Whatsonstage.com (five stars) –“Anthony Sher takes Dr Tomas Stockmann into delightfully idiosyncratic territory, with blazing excitement in his eyes … It's the skilled interplay between Sher and John Shrapnel that drives the fairly chunky tracts of debate - from Ibsen’s liberal political ideas to their discussion of the baths - into the realm of truly compelling theatre … Susannah Fielding makes a spirited performance as Petra … Designer Ben Stones’ huge facade of the wooden house, influenced by a simple Scandinavian style, is strikingly pale … Though a few eyebrows were raised at the inclusion of a 30-strong community cast, their contribution is triumphantly orchestrated, and impressively executed. Evans’ direction makes full use of the capacious thrust stage, leaving clusters of the cast in the stairwell, bringing us right into the whirl of action … A weighty member of Ibsen’s realistic social plays, some might deem the point too heavily hammered home in An Enemy of the People. But the great verve of Evans’ direction ensures the action never gets bogged down, constantly drawing the intellectual threads of Ibsen’s criticism of stagnant middle-class values onwards and climaxing with a beautiful, haunting final image.”
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) –“ A vigorous and bracing, if not flawless, revival of this disturbing anti-populist play … In a play that is ultimately a hymn to intransigent individualism, Antony Sher appropriately takes his own idiosyncratic path. His stocky Stockmann is initially convivial, reckless and naïve … All this is excellent. But I feel that Sher, under Daniel Evans' direction, overplays the idea that there is something psychotic about Stockmann … Evans' production also needs to re-examine the staging of the fourth act public meeting: the central aisle was so full of vociferous extras, it wasn't always possible to see the main characters. But this is still much good work from John Shrapnel as Stockmann's intensely manipulative brother, Lucy Cohu as the hero's distressed wife, Trystan Gavelle as a trimming newspaper editor and Phillip Joseph as a nervy printer … Ben Stones has also come up with a set that makes good use of the Crucible space and that even allows us to see the ghostly shadows of people at work in the newspaper editorial office. It's a sparky revival that, for all the vehemence of its attacks on the will of the people, seemed to go down well with a gratefully packed Sheffield house.”
  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail–“Antony Sher’s performance is mercurial, if a little strange, but Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People receives a belter of a revival at Sheffield’s reopened Crucible … Daniel Evans’ production is horribly timely … The Crucible’s spacious stage is used to handsome effect. Spare props but yards of grey planking. An elegant aesthetic … Sir Antony gives his brave doctor a hesitant manner of speaking, to the point you sometimes wonder (no doubt unnecessarily) if he has mastered his lines … He maybe overdoes the eye-bulging and flashing stares, but you could argue that these are needed to stress how exceptional is his character’s stand.”
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph – “The Sheffield Crucible has reopened with this thrilling production of one of Ibsen’s greatest plays. Rather endearingly its star, Antony Sher, confessed that he had never previously much cared for Ibsen. Ibsen’s reputation as a distinctly gloomy, po-faced Norwegian who invariably occupies the high moral ground does him no favours. There is no other playwright who contrives such wonderfully compelling plots, and there is often humour lurking in plays that also plunge the tragic depths … His plays almost invariably hold the audience in a vice-like grip … What’s remarkable about in Daniel Evans’ fine debut production as the Crucible’s new artistic director is that there are also many moments that make you laugh out loud … Short, stout and bearded, Sher bustles about the stage with the infectious innocence and bonhomie of a highly intelligent, dangerously innocent schoolboy who has just won the school chemistry prize … This is a great star performance, but there is terrific support too, with particularly fine work from John Shrapnel as the town’s corrupt mayor who is also Stockmann’s brother, Lucy Cohu as Sher’s loving wife and Trystan Gravelle as a particularly repulsive journalist. With this timely, high definition production, the new regime at Sheffield has got off to a superb start. ”
  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (four stars) – “The Crucible in Sheffield is comfier, airier, more attractive … But the renovation of Ibsen’s great play is just as striking, if a lot less comfortable. Daniel Evans, the theatre’s new director, has imported Antony Sher to play the embattled medical officer at the centre — and the result is a harsher, more unsettling Enemy of the People than I’ve yet seen … Sher’s tough, bold acting combines with Christopher Hampton’s tough, bold translation … Evans’ revival is fascinating. Since a general election is in the offing, and corruption and cover-up are all around, his production is pretty topical too. Moreover, he gets strong performances from his cast, notably from John Shrapnel as a mayor who radiates power and curt menace, and he uses the thrust stage well, transforming that chaotic public meeting into a scary near-riot … So is the Crucible, such a success when Michael Grandage and Samuel West ran it, again in good hands? I think so, I really do.”
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