Stephen Joseph Theatre Significant Dates: April

A month-by-month guide to significant events and dates at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 1955 to the present day.

1 April:
On 1 April 1978, the legacy of the company's founder was also made a permanent part of the venue with the renaming of the company's second home as the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. Stephen Joseph had founded the company at the Library Theatre in 1955 and following his death in 1967, it was agreed by Scarborough Theatre Trust that the company's new home would be dedicated to the company's founder and named after him. It took another nine years to find a new home when in 1976, the company moved to the Theatre In The Round At Westwood. This was supposed to be a temporary home for three years whilst a permanent home was built for the company, but when it became obvious Westwood was going to a home for longer than expected, it was agreed to change the name to honour Stephen Joseph. When the company moved to its new home in 1996, the title of the building was put up for sale as a fund-raising gesture; Alan Ayckbourn paid to secure the title permanently as the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

2 April: There have been many radio programmes recorded at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout its history - and during its years at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, it was a regular occurrence. One of the most recent was a recording in 2009 of With Great Pleasure which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 2 April 2009. It featured Alan Ayckbourn and included readings from some of his favourite books and plays as part of his 70th birthday celebrations.

3 April: The first Festival of Young People's Theatre was launched at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round by Tessa Harrison in 1979; it lasts for five days and features performances from young people drawn from throughout the region.

5 April: In 1990, the National Student Drama Festival made its first visit to Scarborough and forged the close links with the Stephen Joseph Theatre which endured for more than 25 years. The first performance of the festival in the town took place on 5 April 1990 with productions by universities and colleges from all over the UK performed at venues throughout Scarborough. Alan Ayckbourn was patron of the festival - which he continues to be to this day. So successful was the festival, that it was decided Scarborough would become the permanent home of the festival from 1991. Between then and 2016 - with only a couple of exceptions - the festival took place in Scarborough with the Stephen Joseph Theatre one of the key venues.

9 April: Although the Stephen Joseph Theatre is not immediately associated with exhibitions, the theatre has been mounting exhibitions to accompany its live productions almost since it opened in 1955. Initially a permanent display exploring the history and context of the theatre-in-the-round movement was assembled by the theatre's founder Stephen Joseph and displayed at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, for much of the first 15 years. When the company moved to its new home, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1976, it led to the development of temporary exhibitions accompanying the main house shows covering a wide variety of both local and national artists' work. This initiative, which featured work displayed in the studio / cafe space, was launched and managed by the press officer Stephen Wood. One of the highlights during this period was the exhibition Photocall featuring the theatre photographs of Nobby Clark. When the company moved to its present home, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1996, the gallery was made a permanent feature around the access corridor to the Round auditorium. One of the most notable exhibitions opened on 9 April 2011 with The Half, a display of Simon Annands's black & white photographs of actors preparing for performance. This also marked the theatre's first collaboration with Scarborough Art Gallery, which had an accompanying exhibition of Annand's colour pieces. In 2015, the gallery and the theatre collaborated again with the SJT At 60 exhibition which celebrated the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in a major exhibition.

10 April: On 10 April 2012, the Stephen Joseph Theatre's remarkable production of Alan Ayckbourn's new play Neighbourhood Watch reached another milestone. Having premiered in Scarborough the previous autumn, the play had directly transferred to New York for a month before embarking on a UK tour. This culminated in the play transferring to the Tricycle Theatre, London, for a month-long residency on 10 April 2012. This marked the only time the complete original company of an SJT production had performed in Scarborough, New York and London. During its run at the Tricycle, it would also accumulate more performances than any other production mounted by the Stephen Joseph Theatre during it long history.

11 April: A remarkable celebration on 11 April 1999 saw the Stephen Joseph Theatre celebrate its Artistic Director Alan Ayckbourn's 60th birthday with a fund-raising evening called A Chorus Of Approval. Directed by Stephanie Turner and written by Alan's biographer Paul Allen, it brought together a host of star names who had worked with the playwright to celebrate his career and work. Actors such as Robert Powell, Griff Rhys Jones, Janie Dee, Martin Jarvis and Julia McKenzie alongside many others presented extracts from Ayckbourn's plays within a structure loosely derived from the play Ten Times Table. Proceeds from the one-off event went towards the A Chorus Of Approval fund to support new writing.

12 April: The playwright Alan Ayckbourn was born in Hampstead, London, on 12 April, 1939. His mother was Irene Maud Worley - better known as the novelist Mary James - and his father Horace Ayckbourn, lead violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra. Alan would go on to become the single most famous person associated with the Stephen Joseph Theatre and was its Artistic Director between 1972 and 2009. Alan joined the company at the Library Theatre in 1957 as an actor before being commissioned to write his first play, The Square Cat, which opened in July 1959 and began a career which has seen him become one of the most popular and prolific living British playwrights. In 1961, he began directing with a production of Gaslight and since then has directed more than 350 productions. He considers his principal and most influential mentor to have been Stephen Joseph.

13 April: In 1995, a year before it officially opened, there was a notable moment in the conversion of Scarborough's former Odeon cinema into the Stephen Joseph Theatre. And a treat for those lucky enough to see it. To mark the opening night of the final Spring / Summer season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round with Alan Ayckbourn and John Pattison's A Word From Our Sponsor, all the exterior lights - including the restored neon lights - on the new Stephen Joseph Theatre were switched on for the first time. Theatre-goers heading to the current venue caught a glimpse of the future; as this was essentially a test of the lighting, the lights were turned off when the evening's production had begun.

14 April: The playwright Alan Ayckbourn has been associated with the Stephen Joseph Theatre for more than five decades. The association can be traced back to 14 April 1957. This was the date that Alan Ayckbourn first encountered theatre-in-the-round and Stephen Joseph's Studio Theatre company. The then 18 year old assistant stage manager recalls being taking to the Mahatma Gandhi Hall in Fitzroy Square, London, to see the Studio Theatre Club present a production of Sartre's Huis Clois (In Camera) - actually the first British production of the play - as Rodney had been offered a job as stage manager with the company at the Library Theatre in Scarborough and had asked Alan whether he would like to join him. The effect was obviously profound as Alan agreed to take the job which began in the summer of 1957. He would become inextricably linked with Stephen Joseph, theatre-in-the-round and what is now the Stephen Joseph Theatre from that point onwards.

19 April: By 1977, the Scarborough company had become established in its second home the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, having left the Library Theatre in 1976. The inaugural summer season at the company's new home included a production of Peter Shaffer's Sleuth. The production featured two actors of note: Robin Herford, who had joined the company the previous year and would go on to become not only one of the company's most prolific actors but also it's Co-Artistic Director when Alan Ayckbourn took a two-year sabbatical to the National Theatre from 1986. It also starred Robert Austin making his debut with the company and beginning a long association with the theatre. Robert is another extremely prolific actor with the company and became associated with Alan Ayckbourn and was responsible for the practically definitive portrayal of Sven in Joking Apart, which he played in both the World premiere at Scarborough and its subsequent West End production. Robert has also notably appeared in Scarborough productions such as By Jeeves (1996), the Damsels In Distress trilogy (2001) and How The Other Half Loves (2009).

20 April: Alan Ayckbourn's final new play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, A Word From Our Sponsor, premiered on 20 April 1995. The musical created in collaboration with the composer John Pattison centred on a town's attempt to put on a mystery play and a literal deal with the devil to fund it; observers noted its view on funding of the arts may well have been inspired by the issues raising funding for the company's new home! After this production, Alan Ayckbourn concentrated most of his energies into work on the new Stephen Joseph Theatre which opened a year later.

21 April: One of Alan Ayckbourn's most famous creations is his trilogy, The Norman Conquests. Premiered at the Library Theatre in 1973, the playwright has only directed it himself once more since then. That was in 1993, when a revival to mark the trilogy's 20th anniversary was launched at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round on 21 April with Table Manners.

22 April: It was announced by The Stage newspaper in 2016 that the Stephen Joseph Theatre had appointed its new Chief Executive, Stephen Freeman. This marked a significant point in the history of the company as neither the Chief Executive nor the also recently appointed Artistic Director, Paul Robinson, had any previous connection with the SJT offering a new perspective for the theatre whilst remaining committed to the principles the theatre was founded on of promoting new writing and theatre-in-the-round. Steve had previously worked with Arts Council England and at the New Wolsley Theatre in Ipswich. The role of Chief Executive was only created for the company in 1996 when it moved to its present home, the Stephen Joseph Theatre and the previous incumbents were Mathew Russell and Stephen Wood.

23 April: During 2006 and 2007, much of the Stephen Joseph Theatre's schedule was dominated by a revival of Alan Ayckbourn's Intimate Exchanges, directed by Tim Luscombe and Alan Ayckbourn. This was only the second time the epic play-cycle (which consists of 16 possible play variations) had been performed in its entirety (the first being the world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round during 1982). From 23 April 2007, the Intimate Exchanges Grand Marathon was staged and during the following two weeks, every possible variation of the play was performed over 16 performances with Bill Champion and Claudia Elmhurst playing all 10 parts.

24 April: The perilous state of the future of the Library Theatre was made clear in a letter from Stephen Joseph to Scarborough Library's Director Mervyn Edwards on 24 April 1963. The previous autumn had seen Studio Theatre Ltd - which ran the Library Theatre - move to the Victoria Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Whilst the original intention appears to have been that Studio Theatre would not only run the Victoria Theatre but keep the Library Theatre in Scarborough operating too, a massive Arts Council funding cut meant that Studio Theatre Ltd's grant was cut in half and there was barely enough money to run the new Victoria Theatre. As a result, the Library Theatre was cut loose and the Studio Theatre Ltd board decided to withdraw completely from Scarborough. Unwilling to let his hard work since 1955 be lost, Stephen Joseph founded another company, Theatre In The Round Ltd, and decided to run a reduced summer season at Scarborough on a limited budget (approximately half of the previous year's budget). Whilst Stephen believed this was only a temporary issue and that funding might resume for the new company the next year, it was acknowledged this would be a difficult time for the Library Theatre and its survival.

25 April: Although the Stephen Joseph Theatre officially opened on 30 April 1996 following a five year £5.2m conversion of Scarborough's former Odeon cinema, it actually opened to the public on 24 April with Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical By Jeeves. Whilst By Jeeves was the first production at the theatre, the first 'event' held by the theatre took place on 25 April with a platform talk by the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, chaired by Alan Ayckbourn. This launched the vibrant programme of platforms, visiting shows, concerts and solo productions which have become an essential part of the venue over the past 18 years.

29 April: In October 1976, after 20 years at the Library Theatre, the company moved to its second home Theatre In The Round At Westwood (later renamed the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round). The venue offered something new for the company with a second performing space, the Studio. Initially, it was a very basic end-stage performance space but from 29 April 1977, this was where lunchtime shows were launched for the first time. The first show was Westwood Coronation Day Street Party by Bob Eaton - a show tied in with the Silver Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II. It was a small start to something which would become an integral part of the theatre over the decades to come. The lunchtime shows have frequently been a springboard for new writing talent nurtured by the theatre and playwrights from Alan Ayckbourn, Tim Firth, Nick Warburton, Torben Betts, Vanessa Brooks, Sarah Phelps, Stephen Mallatratt, Susan Hill, Blake Heathcote and Robert Shearman amongst many other have had work premiered during the lunchtime productions at both the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round and the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

30 Apr: The Stephen Joseph Theatre - the company's third and current home - was officially opened on 30 April 1996; although there had been performances of Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber's By Jeeves since 24 April. It marked the end of a six year journey to fund and convert Scarborough's former Odeon cinema into a £5.2m state-of-the-art theatre complex. The opening night also marked the continuation of a tradition from the previous home of the company; on the opening night of a play at the SJT, one of the company - in this case Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn - hang a programme cover of the production in the bar, which stays in place for the show's run. It is later displayed backstage alongside programme covers from every play produced by the theatre since 1976.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. All views expressed on this page are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Stephen Joseph Theatre.