Samuel's back in city for play with a political edge

Julius Caesar, Crucible Theatre, May 18 to June 10,

Thursday, 11th May 2017, 2:28 pm
Updated Friday, 12th May 2017, 1:25 pm
Samuel West (Brutus) in rehearsals for Julius Caesar at the Crucible. Picruee: Joihan Persson
Samuel West (Brutus) in rehearsals for Julius Caesar at the Crucible. Picruee: Joihan Persson

Samuel West, who once ran Sheffield Theatres, is back at the Crucible to play the role of Brutus in Shakespeare’s Roman drama.

Brutus is the figurehead of the plot by senators to assassinate Julius Caesar when he is on the verge of becoming sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

Samuel was cast in the part by director Rob Hastie, who has recently taken over from Daniel Evans as artistic director of Sheffield Theatres. Samuel did the same job from 2005-7.

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The play has just been performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Ben Whishaw (Q in James Bond) plays Brutus in a big London production next year. Samuel isn’t surprised in the current political climate.

“It’s a good story and a very timely play. Certain plays bob to the surface and need to be done. It’s peculiarly apt at the moment.

“I’ve never been in it before. It’s a proper debate about how we want society to be run and what to do about dictators.

“Are we a republic or going to have a king? Two groups claim to be speaking up for the people on the street. They are competing groups of aristocrats, just self-serving.”

The modern relevance of the play was chillingly underlined for him by the fact that the first rehearsal started at exactly the same time as a police officer was stabbed to death outside the House of Commons and people were killed on Westminster Bridge.

Samuel added: “Theresa May called the election on June 8 and we close on the 10th, so the whole run is embraced by this dramatic process. Meanwhile, we’re all a bit worried about the state of the world and whether this form of democracy is crumbling, like in Rome.”

He said Brutus believes in the Roman system “like seaside rock running through him”, adding: “The supposed leader of the free world is the man who said, ‘I must be doing well because I’m president and you’re not’. It’s not a person, it is a job of service.

“Similarly, Brutus is worried about Caesar using his job as a method of getting money and power. Anybody who speaks against it is an enemy of the people.”

Samuel said he is very happy to be back in Sheffield five years after he quit as artistic director of Sheffield Theatres.

He said: “It’s not difficult to come back, only in terms of my life. My partner’s parents live in Chesterfield. We have a young daughter, so there are some theatres where I couldn’t have done the job. It’s too difficult to be away.”

Samuel’s partner is Sheffield-born playwright Laura Wade, famous for Enron and Posh, which she later rewrote as the film The Riot Club.

He was really pleased to be invited back by long-time friend Rob Hastie, saying that Daniel Evans also wanted to work with him but it didn’t come together as his daughter was just born.

He said he left Sheffield because the Crucible closed for refurbishment and the theatres board didn’t like his idea of putting on plays around the city, so there wasn’t anything for him to do in the meantime.

Samuel said: “I’ve missed it. I think Sheffield is a great city and it’s really nice to see some friendly faces who seem quite pleased to see me.

“The football teams are doing well. I went to Bramal Lane for the first time with Wimbledon to see them get beaten 4-0 by Sheffield United. The sooner they get out of our league, the better!”