The Crucible – A ‘melting pot’ of Snooker
This is a guest post by Elliott West from https://greenbaize1972.com/
Nestled in the middle of the bustling city of Sheffield, lies The Crucible Theatre. A venue that has become a bastion of Yorkshire culture, the building has inhabited the main square since 1971. Often referred to as “The Crucible “, the building has not only hosted a variety of plays and musicals as well as sports, including snooker’s World Championship finals. Folklore tells us that Mike Watterson’s (an English professional Snooker player, businessman, entrepreneur and television commentator.) wife went to a play at the theatre and told her husband that it would be a great place to hold future tournaments, the rest is history! Situated just off Norfolk Street, the building is instantly recognisable with its rectangular structure, bright facade and bold signage. When you arrive at The Crucible, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and when you leave you do so with long lasting memories.
The Early Years
The Crucible Theatre was built by M J Gleeson, a building company that specialised in urban regeneration. Built to replace the ‘Playhouse Repertory Theatre’, in neighbouring Townhead Street, the theatre was envisaged to bring new life into the community and engage with national and local theatre groups. A rapid building programme went ahead in 1969, after an innovative plan was devised by the architects, Renton Howard Wood Levin with a “thrust” or platform stage included. Building work finished two years later in 1971, with the opening performance in the November of that year. ‘Fanfare’, an improvised children’s performance and including Chekhov’s Swan Song, with Ian McKellen and Edward Petherbridge along with a finale by a Sheffield brass band. This mixture was aimed at showcasing the versatility of the stage and how the seating is arranged on three sides of the stage with seating only twenty meters apart and capacity audience of only 980, giving the theatre an intimate atmosphere.
Snooker at The Crucible
The snooker World Championship’s arrived at The Crucible theatre by chance and was a decision that ended up fitting like a silk glove. From John Spencer’s first win there in 1977, to Judd Trump’s crowning as champion last year, the Crucible Theatre has become the cornerstone of the sport. It has witnessed some of the greatest matches in the history of snooker, and several 147 breaks along the way. I’ve had the pleasure to attend this Mecca of snooker on two occasions for the World Seniors and it was a pleasure to see Joe Johnson and then Jimmy White raise the trophy in front of a capacity crowd.
The Crucible theatre makes or breaks dreams, manufacturing drama on an epic scale, one moment filling you with sheer trepidation and in the next utter jubilation. The faces may have changed and the game advanced, but essentially the very spirit of snooker remains every year the World Championship is held here. The World Championships is the tournament that every player aspires to win, and the crucible theatre is where they want to raise the silver trophy aloft, in front of the most knowledgable snooker crowd in the world.
A Crucible first that sticks out for me, has to be the 1982 World Championship final between Alex Higgins and Ray Reardon. Reardon sought to repeat his 1976 victory over Higgins. However this was a match that was memorable for several reasons. Firstly the style in which Alex won the match, with a 135 break, clinching the title ten years after his first in 1972 which wasn’t held at the Crucible. Secondly, and most memorable, was Higgins beckoning his wife and baby into the arena after he had raised the trophy. Now a normality in snooker, this moment was innovative in 1982, and had always be credited with Alex’s astute showmanship.
Another memorable first came in 1983, when Cliff Thorburn knocked in a superb 147 break, which actually started out with a fluke on the first red! It was the first one televised at The Crucible, and followed on from Steve Davis’s TV first at the Lada Classic in 1981 against John Spencer. Most that saw it can still remember the scenes of Thorburn sinking to his knees in jubilation, embraced by his opponent, Terry Griffiths, and his great friend Bill Werbeniuk, from behind the snooker partition. Jack Karnehm’s comment of “Good luck mate” before Thorburn potted the final black just added to the drama.
The Crucible, Present and Future
Since the refurbishment of The Crucible in 2007, one that took until 2009 and cost 15 million pounds to complete, the theatre has attracted a new audience. Thanks to the brighter lighting leading to the building, and the welcoming atmosphere of the square around it, the structure has acted as a guiding light for the city of Sheffield. Opened again in February, 2010 by the Earl of Wessex, the stage played host to a production of Henrik Ibsen’s, An Enemy of the People. The venue has also held sports events for table tennis, squash and for the first time held the Ladies World Snooker Championship between 1998 and 2003.
The future for The Crucible is bright with its status recognised both locally and on a global stage. Whether it be a classic production, a musical, a concert or a classic snooker match, this theatre is able to easily adapt and diversify. Like its name describes this building breathes fire into anything that it hosts and is a force for many generations to come.
The Crucible has been around for half a century and is unique for the combination of a compact structure, along with a seating plan that gives every audience member a clear view of the stage, no matter where you are sitting. I’ve only ever experienced this in one other venue, the Tempodrom in Berlin, where I went to watch the German Masters. The circular structure provides a panoramic view of the table(s) in play and has a much bigger capacity of 3,500 but, arguably, lacks the intimate ‘melting pot’ atmosphere that The Crucible cradles.
Sheffield can be very proud of their world famous theatre, and the many theatrical productions and sports it plays host to. It may have changed its outward exterior from red to white over the years, but that has never stopped it from having a constant green light for innovative production. Long may this Sheffield bastion reign!