Stephen Joseph Theatre Significant Dates: May

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

1 May:
In 2009, Alan Ayckbourn stepped down as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. He had run the company for 37 years since 1972 and ensured not only the survival of the theatre but also the legacy of its founder Stephen Joseph by putting new writing at the centre of the company. On 1 April, 2009 the company's new Artistic Director Chris Monks took over from Alan Ayckbourn and his first production opened on 1 May 2009 with Ron Hutchinson's Moonlight & Magnolias, looking at the story behind the writing of the film Gone With The Wind.

2 May: One of Alan Ayckbourn's classic plays, A Chorus Of Disapproval, opened on 2 May 1984. This was one of the largest plays to be staged at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round and had been commissioned by the National Theatre, where Alan would direct in it 1985. The play - which follows the attempts of Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society to stage John Gay's The Beggar's Opera - was dedicated to the former Chairman of Scarborough Theatre Trust, Tom Laughton, who had died earlier in the year.

3 May: In 1978, the theatre had a very special guest when the famed playwright Ben Travers visited Scarborough to see Alan Ayckbourn's production of his farce Rookery Nook. This was the first time the playwrights had ever met and Travers was reported to have enjoyed his visit to the town - where apparently he drank quite a lot of champagne! This was Alan Ayckbourn's first attempt at directing a Travers' farce and he wasn't entirely happy with the result, but thought he did a far better job when he directed Travers’ Thark in 1983.

4 May: The world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's 66th play Drowning On Dry Land took place at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2004. The play was part of a season which initially included an ambitious plan for two plays which would take place at both the SJT and Scarborough Castle. The earliest idea was Alan Ayckbourn's 'Pageant' play which would have been a new play, but this was eventually dropped in favour of the idea of staging The Beggar's Opera at the castle alongside the playwright’s A Chorus Of Disapproval at the SJT (a play which features an amateur company attempting to stage The Beggar's Opera). However, these plans never came to fruition and the season featured Drowning On Dry Land, A Chorus Of Disapproval and Private Fears In Public Places.

5 May: The Stage newspaper made a significant announcement on 5 May 1955 when an article announced Stephen Joseph was to launch an in-the-round (or 'Arena theatre' as it was dubbed in the report) company in Scarborough that summer. This is the earliest known newspaper report about the opening of the Library Theatre and included a quote from Stephen Joseph explaining the appeal of the format: "Costs are cut down tremendously, so that new plays can be staged with far less backing than is usually needed."

6 May: In 1991, Alan Ayckbourn's play Wildest Dreams opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1991. It remains unique in the Stephen Joseph Theatre's history as it is the only play premiered at the theatre which has gone on to be revived by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The RSC staged Wildest Dreams in 1993 with Alan Ayckbourn directing and featuring several members of the original production.

10 May: The McCarthy Theatre at the Stephen Joseph Theatre was actually first put to use in the same week in 1996 with a production of Alan Bennett's Forty Years On. The end-stage McCarthy's first production took place two weeks after performances began in The Round at the new venue. Frequent Ayckbourn collaborator Robin Herford directed the play which included a cast of boys drawn from local schools. The McCarthy can be used as both a stage and a cinema, although Alan Ayckbourn was always keen to emphasise it should never be seen as a studio space or secondary to The Round, leading him the following year to present the world premiere of his play Things We Do For Love in The McCarthy.

11 May: Tying in with the theatre's production of Alan Bennett's Forty Years On (see above), the Stephen Joseph Theatre presented a platform talk with the playwright himself on 4 May 1996. It was one of several high profile platforms during the early years at the new venue which also included Andrew Lloyd Webber in the same season.

12 May: A notable step technology wise for the Stephen Joseph Theatre saw online booking launched for the first time at the SJT in 2006. Although audiences tend to take online booking for granted now, this was a major step for the theatre (which had only gone onto computerised ticket sales at the box office ten years previously).

13 May: With Alan Ayckbourn having announced in 2007 his retirement as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, it was announced by the Scarborough Theatre Trust board on 13 May 2008 that his successor had been appointed and that he would take over the running of the building on 1 April 2009. The name of Alan's successor - Chris Monks - was not made public though until 30 May.

14 May: In 1990, Alan Ayckbourn announced plans for the conversion of Scarborough's former Odeon cinema into a new state-of-the-art home for the company. Whilst he did have the support of Scarborough Council, it was still early days for the project in May 1990 as plans had neither been submitted nor had Rank - which owned the Odeon's lease - agreed to surrender the lease. The Scarborough Evening News reported on 14 May 1990 that, optimistically, the theatre would open in 1992 at the cost of £3.5m to convert the building. The Stephen Joseph Theatre actually opened in 1996 at a cost of £5.2m.

15 May: Former Scarborough Evening News reporter Jeannie Swales began work as the theatre's new publicity officer in 1989. She will go on to become the longest-serving person to hold this position in the organisation and has worked at both the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round and the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

17 May: Although the Library Theatre was formed with the intention of being a theatre-in-the-round space, occasionally over the past 60 years, the performance space has been altered for several of the theatre's productions into a three-sided space. These productions include Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce, Just Between Ourselves, Sisterly Feelings, Invisible Friends and Fiona Evans' Geordie Sinatra, which opened on 17 May 2012.

19 May: On 19 May 1996, the cinema at the Stephen Joseph Theatre had its gala opening; the venue's second stage space, The McCarthy, was also designed to run as a cinema. Fittingly, The McCarthy reflects the history of the building as it retains design elements of the Odeon Cinema from which the theatre was converted. The McCarthy - recognisably from old photographs of the Odeon - is situated in the centre of where the old 'circle' seating would have been. The space retains the best of the surviving Odeon seating which was salvaged from the building during the conversion alongside several notable architectural features including the original Odeon art deco inspired light shades. The gala opening featured a showing of Alain Resnais's award winning Smoking / No Smoking, a two-film adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's play Intimate Exchanges. Resnais was a frequent visitor to Scarborough to see Ayckbourn's plays during the '80s and '90s and even got married to his wife Sabine Azema in Scarborough.

20 May: A huge moment in the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre took place on 20 May 1995 when the National Lottery was broadcast live from Scarborough Spa. Moments before the live draw of that week's lottery, it was announced that the Stephen Joseph Theatre was to receive £1.5m towards the £5.2m cost converting the town's former Odeon into the Stephen Joseph Theatre. This essentially guaranteed the completion of the project as well as releasing other funding. This was one of the largest early awards to a regional theatre by the National Lottery which had been launched in November 1994. The Stephen Joseph Theatre would open 11 months later and the theatre's Artistic Director, Alan Ayckbourn, said of the award: "This is wonderful news. It's been a 40 year dream and it's fitting that it should be named after Stephen Joseph, the man who inspired that dream."

21 May: A revival of Cox & Box - Mrs Bouncer's Legacy - adapted from Arthur Sullivan's Cox & Box - from the previous year marked the final full-length production to be directed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre by its director Chris Monks in 2015 before he left the role on 11 December 2015.

23 May: On 23 May 2007, the Stephen Joseph Theatre company was called for an unexpectedly significant meeting. There Alan Ayckbourn announced he was stepping down as Artistic Director of the company after 37 years. Whilst it was perhaps not a surprise, given Alan Ayckbourn's stroke in 2006, it was still a major announcement. Alan was only the company's second director after its founder Stephen Joseph, who had been a mentor to Alan. Fifty-two years after it was founded, the theatre was about to take a large step into a world where whoever succeeded Alan Ayckbourn would have no direct link back to the theatre's founder and inspirational figure, Stephen Joseph.

24 May: The fund-raising appeal for the Stephen Joseph Theatre was officially launched at Scarborough Town Hall on 24 May 1993. The appeal for £5.2m to convert the former Odeon cinema into a state-of-the-art theatre saw many of Scarborough's leading business leaders, dignitaries and key figures - as well as many people associated with the Stephen Joseph Theatre - gather for the launch. The event included the actor and theatre Associate Director Malcolm Hebden reading a poem specially written for the event by Alan Ayckbourn and would be followed a month later by a similar, star-studded launch of the appeal at the National Theatre in London.

26 May: Having opened a month earlier, the Stephen Joseph Theatre welcomed its first visiting concert with a performance on 26 May 1996 by the trio Kammerspiel. The concert was performed in The Round and launched a vibrant music programme at the new venue which continues to this day.

27 May: In 2013, the Stephen Joseph Theatre took a new step with the launch of live streaming at the venue. This followed the installation of a digital projector in The McCarthy auditorium. The first live streaming performance was Rossini's La Donna Del Iago from the Royal Opera House. Live streaming has quickly established itself as a popular attraction at the theatre with performances from the Royal Opera House and National Theatre; including the NT's revival of Alan Ayckbourn's A Small Family Business, one of the few Ayckbourn plays never to have been performed in his adopted home-town.

28 May: The position of Associate Director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre has been a varied one - and never a permanent position. The first Associate Director was Mervyn Watson, who was appointed in 1976. During the 1980s, Robin Herford, Stephen Mallatratt and Malcolm Hebden held the position with Malcolm holding it for a second period from 1990 to 1996. He was succeeded from 2004 - 2006 by Laurie Sansom, who went on to become the Artistic Director for the National Theatre Of Scotland in 2013. The most recent incumbent was Henry Bell, who began work on 28 May 2013 and stayed in the role until 2016.

29 May: As Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Alan Ayckbourn strongly felt that the theatre needed occasional large scale events to capture the public's imagination and to highlight the possibilities unique to theatre. One of these 'theatre events' was the 10x10 season which took place during the 1998 summer season which featured a repertory company of 10 actors performing in 10 world or UK premieres. The season included world premieres by Alan Ayckbourn, John Godber and Tim Firth amongst others as well as the award-winning actress Janie Dee in the company.

30 May: One of Alan Ayckbourn's most significant plays premiered on 30 May 1985 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough. Woman In Mind is now regarded as a classic Ayckbourn play chronicling the troubling breakdown of a vicar's wife and told entirely through her eyes. The Scarborough premiere did not reflect the high regard the play would later be held with the plaudits only coming with the acclaimed West End production in 1986 featuring Julia McKenzie as Susan.

31 May: The world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's Improbable Fiction opened on 31 May 2005 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. The play was written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company that year.

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.