Artistic Director - Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round

In-depth details about the Stephen Joseph Theatre and its history can also be found in The SJT section of the website.

Alan Ayckbourn & the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round

Having be appointed Artistic Director of The Library Theatre in 1972, Alan Ayckbourn was instrumental in finding a new home for the company and moving to what would become the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. In the wake of Stephen Joseph's death in 1967, Alan continued Stephen's policy of encouraging new plays and new playwrights whilst championing theatre-in-the-round.

As Artistic Director, he was involved in every aspect of the theatre's work and as well as writing and directing his own plays, he directed the majority of plays produced at the venue between 1976 and 1996.

Between 1986 and 1988, Alan took a sabbatical from Scarborough to become a company director at the
National Theatre. During this period, Robin Herford was appointed Co-Artistic Director and responsible for the day-to-day running of the building as well as directing (Alan was still credited as Artistic Director throughout this period, even though many commentators wrongly believed he would not return to the venue after his work at the National).

In 1988, Alan returned to Scarborough reinvigorated and, during 1989, began formulating plans to move the company to the site of the Scarborough's former
Odeon cinema. Over the next seven years, he would be one of the driving forces in raising funds and organising the move to the company's first permanent home.

A Brief History Of The Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round

The need to move the company to a new home had been mooted since the early 1960s largely due to the lack of facilities at the Library Theatre. However, it was only during the 1970s that the need to move became an imperative both in the company's desire to expand its operations and the public library's desire to claim back the space used by the theatre (click here for further information about alternative considered venues for the theatre). Things came to a head in 1975, when Alan Ayckbourn was infamously told by the library that the concert room was needed for 'cultural purposes'!

The theatre had been seriously looking at different premises in Scarborough since 1967 but to no avail (click
here for further details). With the axe ready to fall on the theatre, a last minute compromise was offered by the town council. The town would investigate building a new home for the theatre in what was then a car park opposite the public library. In the meantime, the theatre would move to the ground floor of the former Westwood County Modern School (colloquially known as Westwood), situated beneath the town's landmark Valley Bridge.

The company agreed and moved to Westwood in 1976 at a cost of £40,000 (the move was done as cheaply as possible as it was believed it was both a temporary home and that more funds would be needed soon for the move to a permanent venue). The conversion from school to theatre took just a remarkable 60 days and concrete was still apparently being laid on the afternoon of the theatre opening! The original lease was for just three years, but it soon became obvious there was not going to be a new permanent home for the company (the town council citing a massive increase in the cost of the development). The lease was extended in 1979 to 10 years until the company found another permanent home. Even with this extension, nobody expected the company to be there for long, given the theatre was sharing the building with Scarborough Technical College. However, attempts to find a new permanent home were continually frustrated by costs or local politics. The company made the best of the situation though and flourished in these cramped conditions until 1996 when the move to a permanent home took place.

The theatre opened as Theatre In The Round At Westwood, but when it became obvious the venue was to become far more permanent than initially believed, a decision was made to rename the venue. On 1 April 1978, the venue was officially renamed the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in memory of its founder.

Facilities at Westwood were not as basic as at the Library, but were still not ideal. However, the space proved to be flexible - the discovery that the floor was concrete led to Alan writing the water-bound play
Way Upstream, working on the proposition that if the tank should split, the concrete floor would mean only the theatre would flood! The round auditorium took on its present shape at this venue - at the Library Theatre, the stage had only two entrances, both on the same side due to the nature of the concert room. The three-vomitorium design and shape was created for the move to Westwood in 1976 and was then reproduced exactly at the Stephen Joseph Theatre venue.

The theatre also had a bar area, a kitchen and eating area (eventually renamed as the
The Square Cat after Alan Ayckbourn's first play), which doubled up as a Studio space where lunchtime and late-night shows largely featuring a plethora of new writing was premiered including, famously, the world premiere of Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation of Susan Hill's ghost story, The Woman In Black.

A more comprehensive overview of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, plays produced and people involved can be found in the The SJT section of the website.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.
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The exterior of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.
© Scarborough Theatre Trust

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The interior of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. The stage featuring thee entrances and a design which was later replicated at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
© Scarborough Theatre Trust

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The bar area at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.
© Scarborough Theatre Trust

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The studio space at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round prior to the installation of a permanent stage at the far end.
© Scarborough Theatre Trust