Samuel West goes north to take over at Crucible as curtain comes down on the Grandage era

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The Independent Culture

The actor Samuel West has agreed to run the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which has become one of the most exciting venues in Britain under the leadership of Michael Grandage.

The actor Samuel West has agreed to run the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which has become one of the most exciting venues in Britain under the leadership of Michael Grandage.

West, 38, will officially take over as artistic director from Grandage next summer, but will start work immediately on programming the 2005-2006 season at the Crucible and its two sister stages. He also intends to act at the theatre.

As the son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales he comes from one of the country's best-loved acting families, and he has built up an impressive CV of his own. But it will still be a demanding task to follow Grandage, another actor-turned- director who will now concentrate on running the Donmar Warehouse in London.

Grandage attracted talents such as Derek Jacobi, Joseph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh, in his first return to theatre for a decade, to perform for him at Sheffield. His five-year regime was critically acclaimed for everything from classics to musicals. Audiences rose by 75 per cent, and Sheffield was at the forefront of a resurgence of confidence in regional theatre.

Grandage welcomed West's appointment. "Sam has the talent, profile, drive and enthusiasm to ensure Sheffield Theatres goes from strength to strength. Having worked with him in our current season, I know he already has Sheffield's best interests at heart, and I have every confidence that he will develop this to an astounding level," he said.

West, who came to public attention in the film Howard's End after leaving Oxford University, said the job at Sheffield was all about continuing to make great theatre for its people. He will live in Sheffield while he comes to terms with the post.

"Regional theatre is in a very healthy and exciting state at the moment. The West End doesn't have the same turnover of ideas," he said yesterday. "The Crucible in particular is one of the most exciting stages in the country and I'm looking forward to exploring it both as an actor and a director.

"I think it's important to put yourself in the way of surprises and difficulties, sometimes, and as I do more directing work and find I continue to enjoy it I want to have a secure place where I can be based and from which I can continue to grow. But it doesn't preclude me acting at Sheffield and elsewhere, and I do hope to fit in other work during my time off. If it did include the odd telly and film that would be great. But that will be limited while I get to know the ropes."

Few people have acted, directed and run a venue. But the example of Ian McDiarmid, who ran the Almeida in London for many years while acting on stage and in films, proved it was possible to do both.

A particular attraction of Sheffield Theatres, West said, is that there are three stages of different sizes - the Crucible, which hosts the snooker world championship, the Lyceum and a studio - meaning the trio mirror the three spaces of the National Theatre in London.

Asked whether he might want to run one of the national companies in future, West laughed and said: "Programming 10 productions a year is going to be quite enough. Let's see how it turns out. If in five years' time I am in that company [of contenders for major theatrical jobs] I would be very proud and delighted."

He has turned to directing recently after establishing himself as an actor with a fine turn in accents, which he studies in detail to perfect, and as an authoritative narrator on television series such as The Nazis: A Warning from History.

He won rave reviews when he played Richard II with the RSC four years ago and played Hamlet the next season, for which he won a Theatre Critics' Circle Award. He has also worked as a director and performer at the Chichester Festival, directed Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Bristol Old Vic, and made his opera directorial debut last year, winning an Olivier nomination for his Cosi fan tutte with the English National Opera.

Angela Galvin, chief executive of Sheffield Theatres, said West was developing a strong record as a director. He said: "I am thrilled he has chosen to bring his enthusiasm, intelligence and creativity to Sheffield at a particularly exciting time for the Theatres and for the city."