Theatre Go Round!

by Stephen Joseph, published in Theatre World, March 1959

The theatre in the provinces is taking a beating. There are many of our largest cities without a resident professional repertory company, Leeds, Leicester and the Potteries for example. One or two established reps are doing well, but in the main the reps are having a difficult time. The audience for theatre seems to be diminishing.

There are a few experiments trying to get out of the rut. One of these is theatre in the round - a form of presentation where the audience sits all round a central acting area. It is theatre on a small scale, seating no more than 300. It is theatre on the cheap, the total expenses being no more than £250 per week. It is theatre for actors and audiences, there being a close bond of excitement between them.

Theatre in the round has an ancient history. In this country, at present, the Studio Theatre company is the only professional group trying out this form of presentation.
After live summer seasons at Scarborough, the company has proved that it can attract all sorts of people into the theatre, and hold their attention with all sorts of plays.

Touring round theatreless towns, the company has proved that theatre on a shoe-string need not be of low standard. But the people who have witnessed this near-miracle have been few, there being terrific resistance to going to the theatre anyhow. The idea will catch on.

Each visit the second time round brings a bigger audience. Soon it will be full houses.If the money lasts till then!

Have you ever asked yourself what the theatre can do that the cinema and the TV cannot? Work it out. In the end you'll remember that the theatre has live actors who are responsive to a live audience and vice versa. You can eat fish and chips through a TV show. You can switch off. They go on acting just the same. You can cuddle your girl friend at the flicks. They go on acting. In the theatre, actors feel the response of the audience. Every performance is a unique work of creation, a work of art made by that audience and those actors at this moment of time. So to hell with the scenery that the films can do so much better! To hell with the frame that protects the cathode ray tube! Let’s have the actors in the same room as the audience, let’s have four front rows, let’s get really excited about this acting business!

You can call it highbrow, but it isn’t. You can call it a new-fangled gimmick. But it isn’t. You can be worried stiff by the ways it differs from the proper theatre - but this won’t worry an audience which has never been in a proper theatre (ninety per cent of the population, at a guess).

Any sort of play can be done, and the company is currently doing
Squaring The Circle by Kataev, The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter, Ring Of Roses a new play by David Campton, Martine by Jean-Jacques Bernard and Easter by Strindberg. Recently Margaret Rawlings caused a stir with a powerful performance in Phédre by Racine.
Nearly half the plays by the company have been by new and unknown writers (the critics were far too busy complaining about the lack of new writers to travel to Scarborough and have a look!)

The company believes that comedy is most important. Comedy of Menace, perhaps. Besides
The Birthday Party they have presented The Lunatic View by David Campton - a comedy of menace to beat them all. But it is difficult to get serious comedy. The company is now talking about the idea of an improvised comedy. But the author won’t be thrown out with the scenery - he’ll be an actor in the company with a say in the plot, character and theme matters. It will be interesting to see if the Lord Chamberlain lets this idea through.

Very few of the plays have been West End successes.
Dial M For Murder and Look Back In Anger though have featured and done very well at the box office. But why imitate the West End? The West End will soon be imitating Scarborough. There will be a theatre in the round in London before long, so go and see the original company now.

Copyright of Studio Theatre Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission. Transcribed by Simon Murgatroyd.