Stephen Joseph Theatre Significant Dates: June

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

1 June:
A new era for the Stephen Joseph Theatre was launched on 1 June 2016 when Paul Robinson took up his appointment as Artistic Director; since 1955, the SJT has only had four Artistic Directors. Coincidentally, the official announcement regarding the retirement of the SJT's second Artistic Director, Alan Ayckbourn, was also made by the Scarborough Theatre Trust board on 1 June 2007.

2 June: A high profile launch of the fund-raising appeal for what would become the Stephen Joseph Theatre was launched in 1993. The appeal had been initially launched in Scarborough at the Town Hall in May, but this was followed by a star-studded event held at the National Theatre which was opened by the NT's Artistic Director Richard Eyre. Actors, playwrights, directors were amongst those that attended the efforts to raise an eventual figure of £5.2m for the conversion of Scarborough's former Odeon cinema into a state-of-the-art theatre complex.

3 June: There was surprise news in 1985 when the Scarborough Evening News broke the story that the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round's Artistic Director Alan Ayckbourn was to take a two-year working sabbatical as a company director at the National Theatre between 1986 and 1988. Although Alan Ayckbourn did not comment on the report, it was reported the decision has been made due to the playwright being exhausted running the theatre whilst being keen to demonstrate the venue was able to stand on its own two feet without his constant presence. It was confirmed he would not only write and direct a world premiere for the venue whilst away but that he would also return to Scarborough in two years.

4 June: One of the saddest days in the Stephen Joseph Theatre's history was 4 June 1994 when the actress Sophie Winter tragically died. Sophie collapsed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round the previous day just prior to the final performance of Alan Ayckbourn and John Pattison's musical A Word From Our Sponsor in which she had played the role of Gussie. Sophie, aged 34, died on 4 June in hospital leaving the company devastated at the loss of a much-loved and popular member of the company. Alan Ayckbourn's fondness for the actress, who he had worked with several times, saw him leading a memorial service for the company in Scarborough and to write her obituary for The Independent. When the Stephen Joseph Theatre opened two years later, Sophie was commemorated with the unveiling of Sophie's Fountain in the theatre's atrium.

5 June: It is considered that the peak of new writing at the Stephen Joseph Theatre was during the 1990s when a host of new writers were nurtured by the theatre who went on to considerable success, such as Tim Firth, Robert Shearman, Vanessa Brooks, Torben Betts and Ben Brown. However, each decade has seen its own share of talent and the 2000s was no different. On 5 June 2001, Sarah Phelps made her debut at the Stephen Joseph Theatre with the world premiere of Amaretti Angels in 2001 - Sarah would go on to notable success on television including EastEnders and the adaptations of J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy and Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (2015). Other notable playwrights working at the SJT during the 2000s include Helen Kelly, Nick Warburton and Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran.

6 June:
There are several designers who have made notable impacts on the Stephen Joseph Theatre during the past 60 years. These include Jan Bee Brown, Roger Glossop, Michael Holt, Edward Lipscomb, Juliet Nichols and Helga Wood amongst others. The most prolific designer at the theatre though is Pip Leckenby whose first production, Just A Song At Lunchtime, opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on 6 June 1997. Pip has - at present count - designed more than 75 productions for the Stephen Joseph Theatre including the world premieres of plays by Alan Ayckbourn, John Godber, Torben Betts and Nick Warburton among others.

7 June: For all the success the Stephen Joseph Theatre has had over the past 60 years, there are occasional misfires and flops. One of which is undoubtedly the one-off performance of The Jubilee Show produced to mark the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. The revue was created by Alan Ayckbourn and Mervyn Watson and was a humorous look at what the world would be like in 25 years time from the perspective of the time of the Coronation. The event was organised very late in the day, received little advertising and involved the entire acting company, who apparently outnumbered the audience! The revue was never produced again and was actually forgotten and unrecorded by the theatre until a sole surviving copy of the manuscript was discovered stuffed at the back of a filing cabinet at the theatre in 2007 leading to its place in the theatre's history to be rediscovered.

8 June: On 8 June 2004, the Stephen Joseph Theatre premiered its first collaboration with the playwright Nick Warburton. For Starters was a lunchtime play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and marked the start of a relationship with the playwright which has seen five of his plays premiered at the theatre. Not only well-known as a playwright, Nick is also a prolific writer for radio and television.

9 June: One of the great successes for the Stephen Joseph Theatre since 2005 has been its association with the Brits Off Broadway festival at the 59E59 Theaters, New York. The SJT company first visited the festival in 2005 with Alan Ayckbourn's latest play, Private Fears In Public Places. The month-long visit was a financial risk for the theatre - and possibly an artistic one as New York had traditionally not been kind to Alan's plays since the 1970s. Private Fears In Public Places, which opened on 9 June 2005, was a spectacular success though with critics and audiences and, arguably, spearheaded a new appreciation for Alan Ayckbourn's plays in North America. Such was the success of the visit, the SJT has visited again on average every two years since and built strong links with the festival.

10 June: The world premiere of Bedtime Stories by Lesley Bruce in 2013, marked the first full-length play to be directed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre by its Associate Director Laurie Sansom. Laurie would go on to become the Artistic Director of the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, before taking over as the Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland in 2013.

11 June: On 11 June 1963, Scarborough's Library Theatre's summer season opened with Noël Coward's Fallen Angels. This was the first season produced by Theatre In The Round Ltd, a company founded by Stephen Joseph after Studio Theatre Ltd - which had founded the Library Theatre - moved to the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. In order to keep theatre going in Scarborough, Stephen formed a new company which ran the theatre until 1964, when Scarborough Theatre Trust was formed which continues to run the company (now based at the Stephen Joseph Theatre) to this day. This was also the first production of a Coward play by the company, although there have been a number since including another revival of Fallen Angels, two productions of Private Lives (1964 & 2000) and Hayfever.

12 June: The first Scarborough-born actress to join the company saw Elizabeth Bell made her debut at the Library Theatre in Joan Macapline's A Thief In Time in 1962. Elizabeth was in the repertory company for the entire season and subsequently went onto a very successful career which included working at both the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. She returned to Scarborough in 1989, performing for two years with the company including Alan Ayckbourn's 50th birthday play The Revengers' Comedies and opposite Michael Gambon in Othello and Ayckbourn's Taking Steps.

13 June: On 13 June 1921, Michael Stephen Lionel Joseph was born in London to the actress Hermione Gingold and the publisher Michael Joseph. Better known as Stephen Joseph, he became a pioneer in British theatre during the 1950s and 1960s and launched the Library Theatre company in Scarborough in 1955; the UK's first professional theatre-in-the-round company which was also dedicated to promoting new writing. The two venues in Scarborough his company moved to following the Library Theatre have both bore his name in recognition of his achievements and impact.

14 June: During the late 1980s, Alan Ayckbourn was arguably at the peak of his popularity as well as enjoying critical acclaim. He had returned to the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1988 following a successful two-year sabbatical at the National Theatre, which had raised his profile even more. On 14 June 1989, celebrating his 50th birthday, he was featured in the popular BBC1 chat show Wogan - hosted by Terry Wogan - in, apparently, the first live satellite link interview to take place on the show as - deep in rehearsals for his play The Revengers' Comedies - Alan could not appear in the studio and was interviewed live from Scarborough.

15 June: Over the past six decades, there have been a number of plays which have gone onto extraordinary success from the Stephen Joseph Theatre - many of Alan Ayckbourn's plays and Stephen Mallatratt's The Woman In Black, for instance. One of these break-out successes was Tim Firth's first full-length play Neville's Island premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round on 15 June 1992. Tim had had success the previous year with a lunchtime show A Man Of Letters in the Studio, but his first main-house play proved to be a runaway success. After a acclaimed and popular run in Scarborough, the play went into the West End and was also adapted for television. Tim, meanwhile went onto great success on stage, television and film not least with the various permutations of Calendar Girls.

16 June: On 16 June 1975, Alan Ayckbourn unveiled Bedroom Farce - his first play to be commissioned by the National Theatre but which Alan was allowed to produce in Scarborough first. The comedy is now regarded as a classic Ayckbourn play and has a unique place in the Ayckbourn canon. Commissioned by the NT for the Lyttleton (end-stage), Alan originally planned for it to be performed in-the-round at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. Unfortunately, the set wouldn't fit (Alan apparently hadn't realised how big double beds were!) in the space, so it was produced three-sided for its premiere. Alan then directed it for the end-stage at the NT in 1977 and, when he revived it at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1999, finally in-the-round (as well as end-stage). This is the only one of his plays Alan has directed in three different stagings and the only play at the theatre's current home to have been been performed in both The Round & The McCarthy. Although, there is another play which utilised both spaces...

17 June: Which was House & Garden, Alan Ayckbourn's epic to mark his 60th birthday in 1999. For this, the end-stage McCarthy hosted the play House and The Round was home to Garden. Both plays written to be performed simultaneously with the same cast who moved back and forth between the two auditoria (leaving the house to enter the garden or vice versa). This was a phenomenally successful production for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, yet again pushing the boundaries of what the venue was capable of. Alan Ayckbourn presumed it would never be produced again, but it was snapped up by the National Theatre the following year and has since proved to be popular with both professionals and amateurs alike.

18 June: When the Stephen Joseph Theatre opened in 1996, it marked a new era for the company and opportunities to work with other companies became available. In 1997, the SJT premiered its first co-production working with Wild Iris to create The Farmer's Bride by Ged McKenna. Since then, the SJT has worked with different / companies venues (such as Frantic Assembly, the Orange Tree, Hull Truck Theatre and Bolton Octagon) to produce new work.

19 June: On 19 June 1972, the final play by David Campton to be staged by the company opened at the Library Theatre. Carmilla was an adaptation of the classic Sheridan le Fanu vampire story and one of several gothic adaptations written by David, who was the first resident playwright for the Scarborough company. The play had actually opened a week previously at the recently opened Sheffield Crucible where the Scarborough company had been invited to produce a play with Alan Ayckbourn choosing Carmilla. Sadly for a playwright who was so integral to the Library Theatre during its formative years - and who went onto great success as a playwright - this was the final time a David Campton play was produced by the Scarborough company.

20 June: In 1978, the Stephen Joseph Theatre produced its first play by Neil Simon with a production of Plaza Suite. During its tenure at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round between 1976 and 1996, the company produced a steady stream of plays written by American playwrights - such as Simon, Arthur Miller, Herb Gardner, Edward Albee and David Mamet - several of which were notable successes for the company, not least Herb Gardner's Conversations With My Father (1994) which transferred to the Old Vic in London. The company also produced Barefoot In The Park and Last Of The Red Hot Lovers by Neil Simon whilst at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.

21 June: A previous entry (6 June) highlighted the designer Pip Leckenby, but there has been arguably another designer of equal significance for the company in Michael Holt. On 21 June 1977, Michael's work was seen in-the-round in Scarborough for the first time with a production of Anouilh's The Rehearsal directed by Alan Ayckbourn. Later in the same season, he would design one the company's early defining works at its new home with a production of A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt. Michael, who is a prolific designer for opera, ballet and drama and has worked with companies around the UK and in the West End, has not only regularly worked with the SJT since 1977 (including being the designer for the world premiere of The Woman In Black, for which he also designed for the West End and international productions as well as the SJT's own revivals in 1997 and 2015) but is also closely associated with Alan Ayckbourn. He has worked on world premieres as well as Alan's own revivals of some of his most challenging plays such as Way Upstream and Intimate Exchanges.

22 June: When Stephen Joseph first formed the Library Theatre in Scarborough in 1955, one of the first writers was David Campton; he would go on to become the company's first resident playwright. After Alan Ayckbourn premiered his first play, The Square Cat, in 1959, he and Alan would for several years be the mainstay writers for the company. And they would both write each other increasingly bizarre roles in their plays! This culminated with the world premiere of the one act play Little Brother, Little Sister on 22 June 1961 when Alan Ayckbourn was gifted the role of "a homicidal, 108 year old female cook / nanny" who - notably - also had cannibalistic tendencies. Cross-dressing and with an extraordinary prosthetic nose and cleaver, is it any wonder Alan's chose to concentrate on writing than acting? Alan felt he never quite rose to David's challenges and the roles he wrote were rather tame; David also had Alan play a one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed bar tender at one point.

23 June: 1989 saw a popular new addition to the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round's schedule with the launch of Scarborough Airings. This lunchtime event took place on Fridays throughout the summer season and showcased poems, prose, sketches and songs by local writers. The event ran for several years and although it does not exist today, the spirit of it is certainly alive and well within the OutReach department at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, whose programme includes a number of ongoing workshops, classes and initiatives for local writers such as the Plays & Pinot evenings.

24 June: In 1968, a year after the Library Theatre re-opened after Stephen Joseph had closed the venue, the theatre had practically returned to its roots with just a summer season consisting of four plays and a professional company brought in fresh each year. The 1968 season notably included Tom Baker in one of his earliest professional employs as an actor. He was part of the repertory company and performed in Hay Fever, Arden Of Feversham, The Strongbox and A Boat In The Backyard. This was Tom's sole season with the company and - at this point - he was still an unknown actor. On 24 June 1968 he made his debut with the company and six years later, he became one of the most familiar acting faces on television when Jon Pertwee regenerated and Tom Baker took over the lead role of the popular BBC series Doctor Who, with which he has been associated ever since.

25 June: One of the early playwriting successes at the Library Theatre was James Saunders with his one act play Alas, Poor Fred which premiered on 25 June 1959. The play has since become a favourite with amateur companies and frequently revived by professional companies. It is also the first play premiered at the Library Theatre to have been published. Alas, Poor Fred was published by Stephen's company Studio Theatre Ltd in 1959 and is one of the rarest collectibles associated with the SJT.

26 June: On 26 June 1972, a classic Ayckbourn plays was unveiled for the first time with the world premiere of Absurd Person Singular at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. Since 1972, it has become one of the most famous and successful of the playwright's work and its West End production in 1972 still stands as the longest unbroken run of an Ayckbourn play in London; it also won him his first major award with an Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy. It is one of the few Ayckbourn plays to have been performed in all three homes of the Stephen Joseph Theatre and also been produced in the West End on three separate occasions. It was also the first play produced by Alan Ayckbourn as the Artistic Director of the Library Theatre - he was appointed to the role in 1972 which he kept until his retirement in 2009. A significant play for both Alan Ayckbourn and the SJT.

27 June: Although Relatively Speaking is one of Alan Ayckbourn's most famous plays, it is not well known that it was not until 12 years after it had premiered - and 10 years after its enormous West End success - that Alan Ayckbourn directed it professionally for the first time. He directed it at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round with a revival which opened on 27 June 1977.

28 June: One of several notable playwrights to be nurtured by the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round during the 1990s was Vanessa Brooks, whose first full-length play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Penny Blue, premiered at the venue on 28 June 1994. Vanessa was one of several writers to work with the SJT's first Literary Manager Connal Orton, who was responsible for developing works with writers such as Tim Firth, Torben Betts, Ben Brown and Robert Shearman.

29 June: This is a significant date with regard to the theatrical career of Alan Ayckbourn. Whilst it is well-known that Alan began his playwriting career at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, encouraged by Stephen Joseph. He also began his prolific directing career at the Library Theatre too - again encouraged by Stephen Joseph. His first play as a professional director was a production of Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight in 1961. The combination of his playwriting and directing careers soon led to Alan giving up his initial ambition of becoming an actor and would go on to dominate his career. As a director, Alan Ayckbourn is the single most prolific director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre over the past 60 years and has also directed for the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, in the West End as well as on and off Broadway.

30 June: Although the Stephen Joseph Theatre has a reputation for encouraging and nurturing new playwrights, it has also worked with established playwrights as well as established writers from other media forms looking to move into theatre. The most high profile example of this was in 2005 when television screenwriters Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran unveiled their first professionally produced play, Playing God, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre opening on 30 June. A chance meeting with Alan Ayckbourn led to him giving them a crash course in playwriting and agreeing to produce their first play. The first author the company worked with moving between literary forms was the philosopher Colin Wilson who Stephen Joseph encouraged to try his hand at playwriting following the success of his first book, The Outsider. The theatre produced his one act play, Viennese Interlude in 1959.

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.