Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres – Robert Hastie – receives the 2017 OSA Alumni Award

The OSA Alumni Award is awarded to a member of the Old Scardeburgians’ Association in recognition of their achievements in their life after Scarborough College.  Members of the OSA are invited to nominate fellow members to be put forward to the committee for consideration. This year’s winner is Robert Hastie (1998-1995) a theatre director and former actor, he is the Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres.

He started at Scarborough College in 1988. His father and uncle had been here in the 1960s, and his grandfather during the 1920s. Robert’s brother Richard – who now lives in Australia – joined him in 1991. Robert and the Hastie family are leading members of our exclusive OSA 3 Generations Club

From his early days at College, Robert discovered a love of music and drama. At that time drama and performing arts were not recognised subjects, but Robert got involved in every extracurricular theatre-based activity going. He regularly performed in the annual school musical, and with the encouragement of Mrs Mack, Robert and his friend Oliver Herford set up an after-school drama company. Between them they produced and directed several productions of Shakespeare plays, including ‘Macbeth’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Tempest’. In his final year Robert played ‘Richard III’, and Professor Moriarty in a musical version of ‘Sherlock Holmes’.

Again, encouraged by Mrs Mack, Robert joined the National Youth Theatre, and spent two summer holidays taking part in courses and productions in London. During his other holidays, Robert worked at the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in- the-Round, tearing tickets and selling programmes. His first time on a professional stage was in a group of College boys who were cast as schoolboys in Alan Bennett’s play ‘Forty Years On’, the first production produced in the McCarthy Theatre at the Stephen Joseph when it moved into its current home in the old Odeon opposite the station. Robert played Treadgold, the school rugby captain, which is as close as he ever got to excelling on the sportsfield, though his father remembers a games report from Robert’s first year at College, which said “when Robert manages to get the ball and run in space, he does look like a rugby player.”

After leaving College, and travelling in India and Canada with his classmate Ben Taylor (now a very successful TV director) Robert began his studies in English at Peterhouse, Cambridge. After receiving an unconditional offer, Scarborough College received a feedback letter from the Admissions tutor involved in Robert’s interview process. He wrote: “There is, of course, always a slight worry about someone quite as strongly committed to drama as Hastie is. However, I always remember Sam Mendes, who took a First in English at Peterhouse in the 1980s, as well as laying the foundations of his currently glittering career. My sense of Hastie is that he is mature enough and interested enough to manage all this. None of us had any hesitation. He seemed to us to be a really interesting candidate, one whom we shall enjoy teaching very much”.

Once at Cambridge, again he found himself heavily involved in the drama scene. He took shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, performed in ‘Hamlet’; on a tour of European universities, and acted in a production of Arthur Miller’s ‘View from The Bridge’ which was selected to come to the National Student Drama Festival in Scarborough. He also developed his passion for directing, though at that point and for many years following his time at Cambridge, he pursued his ambition to act. Robert trained as an actor at RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. At the end of his final year, he won the BBC Carlton Hobbs award for Radio Drama, and spent 6 months working on Radio 4, though never once managed to get a part in ‘The Archers’.

His first professional stage role was at the Sheffield Crucible, the theatre he now runs. Over the ten or so years Robert was an actor. He performed on stages all over the country, including through contracts with the Royal Shakespeare Company and a year at the National Theatre. His last stage role was alongside Robert Lindsay in the West End. But by that point our Robert had switched his focus to directing, and had taken a job as an assistant on a production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate. His job was to edit the text for performance, a skill he had developed during his time at Scarborough College putting on Shakespeare plays in the old school hall, now the drama studio. He went on to do the same job for a production of ‘Coriolanus’ starring Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss, and began directing his own shows shortly after. He has directed productions of ‘Henry V’ at Regents Park Open AirTheatre, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ by Tennessee Williams at the Welsh National Theatre, and ‘Breaking the Code’, a play about Alan Turing and the Enigma codebreakers, at Manchester Royal Exchange, which won the award for best production at the Manchester Theatre Awards.

The last time Robert was in this hall, he was collecting a prize for drama on his final day at Scarborough College. Among the books that he was presented with for his Theatre Award was a Complete Works of Shakespeare and a copy of a play called ‘My Night With Reg’, by Kevin Elyot, which Robert had seen on a trip to London with the National Youth Theatre, and which was to become very important to him over the years. He used a speech from the play to audition for drama school, and twenty years after collecting the script for his prize at Speech Day, Robert was nominated for an Olivier Award and a London Evening Standard Award for his direction of a new production of the play. The show was his big break in London Theatre, and it soon transferred from the Donmar Warehouse, where Robert became an Associate Director, to the Apollo Theatre in the West End, where it sold out and won 5 star reviews.

Three years later, Robert became Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, Britain’s largest theatre complex outside London. He runs the three theatres that make up the complex, including The Crucible, world famous both as a theatre and as the home of the world Snooker championships. The first production to open during his tenure was Harold Pinter’s ‘No-Man’s Land’, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart.

Since arriving in Sheffield Robert has set up a scheme to give free theatre tickets to young people taking drama or performing arts as an option at school, and a programme aimed at helping young people with learning disabilities get involved in making theatre. Last year he was the highest new entry in the Stage newspaper’s list of the most powerful people in British theatre. ‘The Wizard of Oz’, which he’s currently rehearsing, opens at the beginning of December in the Crucible.

Finally, when recently who or what influenced him the most.  Robert replied –  Brian Cant and ‘Play Away’ – a show all about dressing up and pretending and Mrs Mack – his English teacher who encouraged, supported and inspired him in the field of English and Performing Arts. When asked what he had wished he had known at the start of his career, his response was very simple  – “No one else’s map will work for you”. So his message for students  is follow your passion and create your own map!

Mrs Anna Mack, Robert’s inspiring English teacher presented Robert with the 2017 OSA Alumni Award.