The Crucible Theatre at 50: Peter James

The long-flowing hair might have gone, but at 81, Peter James remains one of the country’s leading theatre directors and teachers.

His early career was shaped in 1964 when he was one of the three founders of Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, and assumed full directorship in 1966.

He went on to the Royal National Theatre in 1971 at the Young Vic, working as Associate Director alongside Laurence Olivier and Peter Hall, and directed for the RSC and the National Theatre’s Mobile Company.

James was strongly associated with the Arts Council Drama Panel, and was chairman of its Young People’s Theatre Committee, as well as president of the International Theatre Institute’s Theatre and Youth Committee, directing in the USA, Australia, and Israel.

During the seventies he directed Twelfth Night at the Sovremennik Theatre, Moscow, becoming the first British person to lead a Russian company since 1905.

He became Artistic Director at the Crucible Theatre in 1974 – “The highlight of my career” – and put it on the map as the place that could do musicals – Chicago, The Wiz, Cabaret – but only after a long fight to get people into the theatre.

This was the happiest time of my life. The trouble was I couldn’t get people through the doors. My answer to that was snooker. I’d tried boxing, but then I was handed a newspaper cutting about an attempt to take the world championships to the Guthrie Theatre in Canada, which was perfect for snooker. I wrote to the organisers and told them, ‘We have a similar theatre here’. The money we made from that first tournament paid for a production.”

He left in 1981 to become Director of Lyric Theatre Hammersmith until 1992, but later admitted that he didn’t enjoy it as much as Sheffield.

He left live theatre and championed young talent, becoming principal of LAMDA between 1994 – 2010, and was awarded a CBE for his contribution to arts in 2011.

James is now Head of Theatre Directing at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London.