Articles: David Campton (1955)This article was first published in the October 2011 edition of the SJT Circular.
When he founded the Library Theatre in 1955, one of Stephen Joseph’s stated intentions was to encourage new plays by new playwrights.
The inaugural season featured new plays by four writers, one of whom is now considered to be the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s first resident playwright and who became both popular and prolific.
That writer was David Campton and although he is not as well-known as another of Stephen Joseph’s protégés Alan Ayckbourn, he was the writer Stephen championed the most.
David first came to Stephen’s attention at a playwriting course during the early 1950s. Keen to encourage a promising new writer, Stephen continued to work with David and in 1955 invited him to write a play for the new Library Theatre in Scarborough.
This play, Dragons Are Dangerous, began a pattern in which David had at least one play produced every year at the theatre until Stephen’s death in 1965; making him the venue’s most prolific writer during this period. He also had more plays directed by Stephen than anyone else.
Their strong relationship had a profound impact on David’s writing; Stephen encouraged his early ‘Comedy of Menace’ plays, which led to favourable comparisons with Harold Pinter. Stephen firmly believed David had the potential to be his breakout writer and went to great lengths to promote the writer, even in London. While he did not achieve the recognition Stephen felt he deserved, his plays were well-received by many influential critics including John Russell Taylor, who featured David in his seminal book on British theatre during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Anger And After. In an article in The Times in 1961, he argued the playwright’s lack of recognition was due entirely to geography: “Clearly it is Mr Campton’s misfortune that he lives in the North, and has been produced primarily by a northern company, since up to now it has prevented him from receiving the attention he should have.”
David, like so many others at the Library Theatre, was not just a writer. He was the venue’s general manager between 1959 and 1963 and acted in 23 plays including the world premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s first two plays, The Square Cat and Love After All. Alan has fond memories of the increasingly terrible roles they wrote for each other which culminated in Alan playing “a homicidal, 108 year old female cook / nanny.” Stephen also encouraged David to try his hand at directing, initially directing his own play Usher in 1962, followed by Noël Coward’s Fallen Angels in 1963.
Stephen Joseph died in 1967 and the last play he directed in Scarborough was David’s Cock & Bull Story in 1965. After his death, David was vocal in defending Stephen’s artistic legacy and was responsible for facilitating the acquisition of Stephen’s papers by the University of Manchester.
David would have only one more play produced in Scarborough with Alan Ayckbourn directing the gothic thriller Carmilla in 1972.
While it may be almost 40 years since one of his plays was last performed at the SJT, David found considerable success outside Scarborough. He wrote more than 100 one act plays and 20 full-length plays; of which 23 are currently published by Samuel French. His one act plays have long been a staple of amateur groups and his continued popularity can be measured by the fact that in 2010, he was the most performed playwright in the All England Theatre Festival.
David died in 2006 at the age of 82, shortly after receiving the Doctor Of Letters at the University of Leicester, having undoubtedly made a significant and lasting mark on British drama. His plays continue to be popular and John Russell Taylor’s description of his writing seems as relevant today as it did in 1961.
“His voice is individual, and deserves to be heard.”
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without the permission of the copyright holder.