Daniel Evans interview: giving us The Full Monty
7th February 2014
Daniel Evans interview: the man who brought hot stuff to Sheffield
Sheffield has been restored as a theatrical powerhouse, thanks to one man – Daniel Evans. Interview ahead of the West End transfer of his production of The Full Monty. First published in the Daily Telegraph Feb 07, 2014
Two winters ago I saw something faintly astounding on the Sheffield Crucible’s thrust stage. Daniel Evans, brilliantly on song as the commitment-phobic hero Bobby in a super-classy revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, stripped to his pants and romped about on a bed with a nubile air hostess.
Evans, 40, is a well-known actor – with two Olivier Awards for other Sondheim leads to his name, too – so you might think there’s nothing especially remarkable about this. And he has gone even further on three previous occasions, letting it all hang out at the National and Royal Court – an act he describes as both daunting and liberating.
But the big difference here was that he also runs the Crucible and its sister venue, the Lyceum – one of the toughest jobs in British theatre. I can’t think of any artistic director with the nerve, let alone the talent, to expose quite so much of themselves in front of their own audience.
The Welshman’s combination of bravado and bravura has been paying off handsomely, though. Not only can he sing, dance and act his socks off, he has proved a fantastic impresario, too, despite never having run a building before and only doing a modicum of directing ahead of his appointment as Samuel West’s successor in 2009.
Under his aegis, there have been a string of productions – among them a sensational My Fair Lady starring Dominic West and a top-notch Oliver! – that have wowed locals and had critics clamouring, please sir, for more.
His is a name to conjure with, as was that of his forerunner, Michael Grandage, and when it emerged that he had got to the shortlist to succeed Nicholas Hytner at the helm of the National Theatre, few were surprised. Although Rufus Norris got the gig, the NT’s loss is Sheffield’s renewed gain.
A typically intelligent, adventurous season has been programmed for 2014, starting with a festival dedicated to that giant of modern Irish theatre, Brian Friel. And this month, Evans’s ascent as a director is further confirmed by the West End transfer of his hit screen-to-stage production of The Full Monty.
Simon Beaufoy’s funny, touching film about six Sheffield men who contend with the steel-mill closures of the Thatcher years by forming their own strip-club act earned a fair few bob back in 1997 (more than £160 million). His deft theatrical adaptation should make a packet, too, now that it’s in town.
While it doesn’t boast a box-office name such as Robert Carlyle – who played the pivotal role of Gaz, the scallywag divorcee whose desperate need to keep contact with his son drives much of the drama – it’s a terrific ensemble effort. And, as I saw for myself on the opening night, the frenzy of collective anticipation that builds to that famous “reveal” – cheekily achieved in a blaze of blinding light – almost takes the roof off.
“On the first night it was like a riot,” Evans remembers, as he tucks into his lunch during the final stages of putting the show back on its feet. “I always find that moment very moving,” he continues. “These men are uncomfortable about taking their clothes off – and when they get to the final strip, it’s as if the actors are at one with their roles. I always look at Kenny Doughty [who plays Gaz] and Simon Rouse [the ex-manager Gerald] in the last bit of the dance just before they reveal everything, and you can see that they’re looking at each other as if they’re saying ‘This is it – are we ready?’ It perfectly embodies those men’s spirit of camaraderie.”
It’s not too hard to get the measure of Evans – he’s loquacious, charismatic, highly focused and blessed with a winning smile. It might seem like a no-brainer to stick The Full Monty on stage and bring it home to Sheffield, but he has done so with panache and a passionate conviction that the story matters. His background in the Rhondda valley – growing up amid the decline of the mining industry in which his grandparents had worked – left him keenly attuned to the psychological repercussions of major economic upheavals.
“The stripping is highly metaphorical,” he suggests. “You get a good time watching the show, but hopefully you also get this fundamentally poignant comment on a community that’s falling apart.”
Will there be hen nights in the audience, whooping, cheering and cackling? There’s bound to be a bit of that, he admits, “but our job is to give them something richer than they expected. This is a journey towards self-respect. The characters have to get to a place where they can be proud of themselves. Though we’re two decades on, it’s also a story about men now.”
In some ways, Evans is the beneficiary of post-industrialisation and the breakdown of old certainties. He’s been openly gay since he became an actor – a childhood vocation – but things weren’t easy in his youth, and he was bullied at school.
“It wasn’t allowed when I was growing up. It was very much a macho culture and the feeling of not belonging to that was very difficult.”
At the same time, he can’t help yearn for what has been lost: “When I grew up, all those hills were black because they were slag heaps. Now it has all been landscaped and it’s really green. We have gained beauty but lost work.”
These days, toiling away at Sheffield Theatres morning, noon and night, he’s an advertisement for self-motivation. “The workaholic in me is really fed,” he says, laughing.
“I got to a place as an actor where I felt like I wasn’t using all of me. Running a building and directing keeps the stimulation endlessly varied and incredibly demanding.”
Frightening sometimes? He nods. “I have loads of angst and doubts that I shouldn’t be doing it, but I don’t necessarily think of that as a bad thing.”
He certainly seems to have grown in confidence since he took up the post and what’s clear is that he doesn’t run the Crucible as The Daniel Evans Show; he’s on a mission to make good things happen for everyone.
There are parts he won’t now play, much as he would have liked to – Hamlet, say, or Konstantin in The Seagull, “but that’s OK. I don’t need it. I’m lucky to be where I am.”
He talks about Aristotle’s idea of “eudaimonia”, human flourishing, and it taps the rich seam running right through his output from the opening production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People past My Fair Lady and The Full Monty to this year’s highlights, including a new version of Kes and a modern-day mystery cycle featuring 100 local performers.
“I love stories about people trying to reach their potential – whether it’s Thomas Stockmann or Eliza Doolittle,” he explains. Sometimes they’re punished for it, sometimes they’re celebrated for it.”
He grins and there’s a flash of steel in that grin. “Wherever you grow up, the journey in The Full Monty is a journey we all have to go on – standing up for who we are, fully and unapologetically.”
And that, laid bare, is what God’s gift to regional theatre is all about.