Alan Ayckbourn On The Victoria Theatre

The quotes reproduced below offer some insight into Alan Ayckbourn's own thoughts about his experiences at the Victoria Theatre between 1962 and 1964.
"I was, as some may remember, one of the founder members of the in-the-round Potteries operation. Following a series of winter tours to Newcastle's Municipal Hall where, most memorably for me anyway, I played Claudius in an uncut interval-less Hamlet, (four and a half fun filled hours, folks) we eventually opened the New Vic in Hartshill Road. It had most recently been a night club which was closed by the police, following an act involving a woman dancer apparently behaving improperly with a snake. It occurred to me at the time that this might be a hard act to follow, our most daring show in the rep at the time being Pinter's The Caretaker. (No women, no snakes).
"Peter Cheeseman and I directed alternate productions for the first year or so. The ones I didn't direct I acted in. We changed shows every three days.
"We had some fine arguments, I recall. But I think generally we argued to keep warm. The theatre was unheated for the first year or so and the audience brought hot water bottles, rugs and on one occasion a flask of soup. When we opened
The Caretaker nobody came. The man who ran the chip shop said, you can see all that at home, can't you?
"My first original play for the Vic was
Mr Whatnot. A largely mimed play with a million and one sound effects which I recorded myself over several nights in the theatre control room, long after everyone else had left. Amongst the effects required was a large dog barking. I prided myself on my barking ability. I was midway through the recording when, at 2 am, a policeman knocked on the back door and asked if I could keep the dog quiet as there'd been complaints. I chose not to tell him that it was me, as that seemed to invite a misunderstanding. Instead, I held a three way conversation through the door between him, me and the dog. (Bad boy ... woof, woof ... quietly now ... sorry about that, officer ... woof, etc.)."

"We used to tour there [Newcastle-under-Lyme], when we weren't playing here [Scarborough]…. One of the places we went to was Newcastle-under-Lyme which is, of course, two feet from Stoke and used to tour in a big place called The Municipal Hall and while we were there Stephen began, as he always did, to investigate the possibility of a home and - what happened - was he found a cinema which was The Victoria Cinema which he designed and converted into in-the-round.
"The Company virtually split in half, the Scarborough Company sort of withered slightly because the whole grant went with the Stoke operation and there was a couple of years in the early sixties when Scarborough began to look as if it might go, it was run by amateurs, indeed with no professional input at all. Stephen went off to teach at Manchester University so he had very little to do with the opening, he had some fatalistic streak in him, he was more of a pioneer than a finisher. He would sort of start things but rapidly got very bored with it. It was an engaging quality but you had to have people who would pick it up and the other person who was very involved and still is involved, he's leaving this year, was Peter Cheeseman….
"Stephen was notionally the Artistic Director of the Company - Peter was the General Manager who did direct a bit and I did most of the directing so when we arrived there Peter was the Manager and I was both leading actor and director and I used to alternate with shows, quite exhausting and I was there for two years and we put it on its feet."

"It's interesting. Peter Cheeseman and I started, well not together as I was already working for Stephen before Peter came, but in the early 1960's when we went to Stoke although he was general manager of the theatre, we were virtually joint co-directors. I was in most of the shows and I directed every other one. We did that for over a year until eventually I left. My career changed. It changed to a certain extent from my Stoke career because I came back to Scarborough where the community itself was very different. There's no industry here unless I wanted to do documentaries on Plaxtons or Hardings, the printers, you begin to run out of things to document. Peter was in the middle of an industrial area which was going through the most traumatic closures to do with steelworks, there was mining, there was the potteries, all sorts of things but even he ran out of them eventually. By the end of the 1970's there was very little left to document. But he inevitably was drawn into the community and he responded to that community and the community's needs and indeed marvellous things happened - workers coming in when they were all on strike reporting at the end of the show where they stood, what was happening, so it turned into documentary drama which of course he developed very strongly."

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.