Stephen Joseph Theatre: Touring Notes

This page offers a look at the tours which have launched from Scarborough since 1958 highlighting significant moments in the company's touring history.

Touring began at the Library Theatre in 1958 - three years after the theatre opened in 1955. Stephen Joseph’s stated ambition of the tours was to visit towns without municipal theatres in the hope that one of them would show interest in building a permanent home for the company. If his ambitions had been successful in the first couple of years, there is every possibility Stephen would have left Scarborough and closed the Library Theatre before it had firmly taken root.

The 1959 tour featured the professional directorial debut of Harold Pinter. Reeling from the critical mauling his first play, The Birthday Party, had received in the West End, Pinter was invited to direct the play himself for the Studio Theatre Limited 1959 winter tour; the only proviso being the production had to be in-the-round and utilise the existing Scarborough company. A young actor called Alan Ayckbourn played the role of Stanley and was very impressed by Pinter. Although The Birthday Party was not performed in Scarborough, it was rehearsed in the Library Theatre before being performed in Birmingham and Leicester. Pinter later said the production re-affirmed his belief in his own writing abilities and the play.

The first Alan Ayckbourn plays to tour were both part of the winter 1960 tour. His first and second works, The Square Cat and Love After All, were included in the tour with Alan initially pencilled in to appear in both of them. However, he was called up for what turned out to be a short-lived National Service and did not appear in the tour.

Touring ceased in 1962, primarily because Stephen’s initial ambitions appeared to have been realised. Newcastle-under-Lyme Town Council seriously considered approving the UK’s first purpose-built theatre-in-the-round. This plan did not come to fruition but did instead lead to the creation of the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1964 (a renovation of a former cinema) with Studio Theatre Ltd moving from Scarborough to the new venue. The move led to a significant decrease in funding for the Library Theatre and, as a result, touring - alongside the winter season - was lost for more than a decade.

Having become Artistic Director in 1972, Alan Ayckbourn moved forward with plans to move the company to a year-round organisation rather than just summer seasons. The first winter season since 1974 was launched on the back of Alan’s latest play Confusions, which played a touring season of Scarborough, Whitby and Filey for several weeks. This is the first - and only time - the company toured a play which was performed in-the-round, end-stage and thrust. Due to the differing requirements of the Library Theatre (where the company only had access to the smaller Lecture Room rather than the usual Concert Room), it was performed three-sided on Fridays and Saturdays in Scarborough; on Tuesdays it would be performed in-the-round in Filey; on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the play would visit Whitby and be performed in the end-stage!

During the 1970s and 1980s, the company - now based in the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round - frequently collaborated with the British Council to present international tours. This notably included a tour of Canada with Alan Ayckbourn’s Time & Time Again in 1987 and a tour of Alan Ayckbourn’s Henceforward… which visited West Germany, Poland, Turkey and Egypt in 1988.

In 1980 and 1981, the company toured for the first time to London with residencies at The Round House. Alan Ayckbourn’s Suburban Strains and Season’s Greetings were performed and it marked the first time an Ayckbourn production had been seen in the capital with Ayckbourn’s own - and preferred - company. Seen as a test-bed for circumnavigating the West End that the playwright had such an uneasy relationship with, the tours were unfortunately not very successful and did not continue.

In 1982, the company toured to the Alley Theatre in Houston for a six week residency. Unbelievably, they toured Alan Ayckbourn’s water-set play Way Upstream. Despite a minimal budget and a trans-Atlantic transfer, the play was produced problem-free in Houston complete with water, boat and rain; something that the National Theatre couldn’t achieve with all its resources! The company also performed Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends - notably a production which was directed specifically for the Alley Theatre by the playwright and was not performed in Scarborough.

Touring at the Stephen Joseph Theatre was launched in a limited way in the company’s first year at its new home in 1996; in 1997, Alan Ayckbourn's Things We Do For Love toured to just two venues, but one of them was a very successful transfer to Brussels!

Touring is considered to have properly launched at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1998 with the musical Baby On Board - marking the first time SJT tours received their own touring logo. The three-venue tour led the following year to the company’s first major tour with the revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Haunting Julia visiting nine venues across the UK.

In 1999, the company essentially launched its post-summer season in-the-round tour which became a regular fixture of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s diary. This short tour has encompassed a number of venues over the year, but always visits our sister theatre, the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windemere.

In 2001, the company’s most ambitious UK tour yet also saw the company’s first collaboration with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford - which has subsequently frequently collaborated on the company’s annual end-stage tours - with a tour of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce.

In 2005, the company toured for the first time to the Brits Off Broadway festival in New York at the 59E59 Theatres with Alan Ayckbourn's Private Fears In Public Places, beginning an extremely successful - and often very highly acclaimed - collaboration. The company has subsequently toured to the festival appoximately every two years since.

Between 2011 and 2012, the tour of Alan Ayckbourn’s Neighbourhood Watch achieved a remarkable first for the company. Following its world premiere in Scarborough and a short in-the-round tour, it transferred to New York for a month as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival. The tour then continued around the UK in 2012, culminating in a month-long residency at the Tricycle Theatre, London. Scarborough, New York, London - not a bad achievement!

The most ambitious tour to launch from the Stephen Joseph Theatre came in 2014, when the Ayckbourn Ensemble was launched. For the first time, the company took three plays - Arrivals & Departures, Time Of My Life and Farcicals - with a company of 13 actors on a UK tour before again transferring to New York.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without permission of the copyright holder.