Stephen Joseph Theatre Significant Dates: July

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

2 July:
John Godber is one of the country's most popular playwrights and although he is most associated with Hull Truck Theatre and, latterly, Wakefield Theatre, he has had several plays premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. On 2 July 1998, the Stephen Joseph Theatre had it first premiere of a Godber play with Perfect Pitch as part of the 10x10 summer season (10 world or British premieres performed by a company of 10). This was a popular piece set on a campsite just outside Scarborough and led to other professional premieres at the SJT including Fly Me To The Moon (2004), Lost & Found (written with his wife, Jane Thornton, in 2012) and Muddy Cows (2013).

3 July: The 1969 summer season (at this time, the Library Theatre was only operating during the summer months) featured a remarkable acting company as can be seen from the world premiere of Leonard Barras's A Little Stiff Built Chap on 3 July. The six-hander included Stephanie Turner (who notably went on to play the original lead in the BBC's Juliet Bravo), Bob Peck (highly acclaimed stage and screen actor who shot to fame in the BBC series Edge Of Darkness but was known to many for his role in the original Jurassic Park) and Elisabeth Sladen (who would find fame as Sarah Jane Smith in the BBC series Doctor Who and is widely regarded as the most popular of all the Doctor's companions and who would go on to her own spin-off series). The play also generated a minor flurry of correspondence in the local newspaper pertaining to its language and the fact an actress appeared on stage in her underwear. The director Alan Ayckbourn later noted he'd have hated to think what the reaction would have been if he'd followed the stage instructions as written and the actress had come on naked!

4 July: One of the key figures in the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre is Ken Boden, an insurance agent in Scarborough, who became the Library Theatre's first manager and was involved with the company continuously from it opening in 1955 to his retirement in 1987 (and who - alongside his wife, Margaret - the Boden Room at the SJT is named after today). Although Ken was involved with the theatre from Stephen Joseph's first visit to Scarborough, he actually only gets a credit in a programme two years later with the opening production of the 1957 summer season on 4 July, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Ken was not only the theatre manager between 1955 and 1987 but he was also the man responsible for saving the theatre in 1965 and for ensuring its long-term survival. Stephen Joseph closed the Library Theatre in 1965 and it was only Ken's persistence in letting him run it with an amateur season in 1966 whilst he prepared plans for a professional revival in 1967, which kept the theatre going. Without Ken, it is unlikely the Library Theatre - and thus, the SJT - would have been revived and in all likelihood would not exist today.

5 July: That 'final' season began on 5 July 1965 with Granite by Clemence Dane. Ironically, it was the most financially successful season at the Library Theatre since it opened in 1955 and, artistically, it featured world premieres of plays by Alan Ayckbourn, David Campton, Alan Plater and Mike Stott. Indeed, the season would be memorable alone for the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's first major hit Relatively Speaking (then called Meet My Father). But during the season, unhappy with the lack of support he perceived the company was receiving from the Libraries Committee and the Town Council, Stephen Joseph announced the theatre was to close permanently at the end of the season. In his book Theatre In The Round, Stephen makes it quite clear he considered this the end of the Library Theatre and that it had no future. As mentioned above, it is only thanks to the tenacity of Ken Boden that professional theatre was relaunched in 1967 at the Library Theatre, although Stephen was too ill to contribute by this point and had no further significant input into the company.

6 July: Over the decades, the Stephen Joseph Theatre has premiered a substantial number of adapted works including several by Alan Ayckbourn - notably his adaptation of R.B. Sheridan's A Trip To Scarborough (1982). One of the most interesting was the world premiere of The Parasol by Frank Dunai in 1988, an adaption of Chekhov's novel Three Years which was sent to Alan Ayckbourn - a fan of Chekhov's work - whose eye was initially caught by an attached note: 'Dear Alan, I am turning in my grave, love Anton.' Other notable pieces over the years include adaptations of Emily Brönte's novel Wuthering Heights (1956), Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1962), Charles Dickens' short novel The Chimes (1975), Christopher Fry's television series The Bröntes Of Haworth (1985), Susan Hill's novella The Woman In Black (1987), Jerome K Jerome's book Three Men In A Boat (1990), Charlotte Brönte's novel Villette (2005) and Edward Lear's poem The Scroobious Pip (2010).

7 July: This day marks the anniversary in 1966 of the amateur season which essentially saved the Library Theatre. In 1965, Stephen Joseph announced the venue was to close permanently at the end of the summer. The theatre manager, Ken Boden, had other plans though and in order to keep the Library Theatre going until they could be realised, he proposed to Stephen Joseph that the summer 1966 season be produced by Scarborough Theatre Guild and feature local amateur groups. Stephen agreed, allowing Ken enough time to finalise plans for the professional re-launch of the theatre the following year. Ken programmed the summer 1966 season as if it were a professional one with four productions, each performed in two one week slots culminating in the annual In The Round festival. All the amateur productions were presented in-the-round too and the plays an companies presented that season were: Doctor In The House by Ted Willis (Cresta Players); Intent To Murder by Leslie Sands (Filey Drama Club); Bonaventure by Charlotte Hastings (Phoenix Drama Club); Father Matthew by Aubrey Colin (Outsiders Drama Club).

8 July: In this history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, there are several plays which can be said to have exceeded all rational expectations of success. The Woman In Black obviously springs to mind, but the most notable is - arguably - Alan Ayckbourn's Meet My Father which opened on 8 July 1965. And which hardly anyone today recognises the title of! Renamed as Relatively Speaking though, it becomes a different story. Written by Alan Ayckbourn and directed by Stephen Joseph, this proved to be very popular and was immediately optioned for the West End by the producer Peter Bridge. Two years later, it would open at the Duke Of York's Theatre under the title Relatively Speaking and Alan Ayckbourn would never look back. The Library Theatre, relaunched professionally in 1967, also benefitted from the success of this play as being the originating theatre, it received royalties from the London production; much needed given the theatre re-opened without its Arts Council subsidy and very little in the way of finances.

9 July: The day after Meet My Father opened at the Library Theatre in 1965, Scarborough Theatre Trust was alerted to the fact this was likely going to be the company's final season. Stephen Joseph noted at the Trust's first AGM that the company was not able to mount a full summer season that year, that it had only been made possible by the low wages of the actors and staff, that neither the local authority nor Libraries committee has been supportive and that, in all likelihood, the Library Theatre would not be active the following year. In fact, the only positive note from the minutes appears to have been the support of amateur organisations such as Scarborough Theatre Guild and the British Drama League.

10 July: During the 1960s, there was a notable resurgence in northern playwriting, largely thanks to the efforts of the BBC Radio producer Alfred Bradley - who was a great supporter of the company. One of the most notable playwrights to merge during this period was Alan Plater, who would have two world premieres at the Library Theatre and would go on to a successful career writing for radio, stage and screen. His play Hop, Step & Jump was part of the 1967 season which relaunched the venue and 1965 saw the premiere of See The Pretty Lights.

11 July: On 11 July 1955, the inaugural acting company at the Library Theatre in Scarborough stepped into the performance space for the first time. This day marked the first day of rehearsals in the Concert Room at the Library Theatre before its official opening on 14 July. Prior to 11 July, the company had been rehearsing with Artistic Director and founder Stephen Joseph in London. This was essentially the day the Stephen Joseph Theatre became a reality in Scarborough.

12 July: Having beaten the odds and established a successful inaugural season at the Library Theatre in Scarborough in 1955, Stephen Joseph launched a second season on 12 July 1956 with a season of 6 plays (three of which were presented during a triple bill). The season opened with Aubrey Collins's Father Matthew, featured four world premieres with two of them written by women; continuing Stephen Joseph's progressive programming of new writers and new work from the previous year.

13 July: The Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round years (1976 - 1996) saw the company rapidly expand and was a period of great experimentation in what the theatre offered. Lunch-time plays were launched in 1977, which are a mainstay of the company to this day. Late night shows and Saturday morning children's shows (forerunners to the Tiny Time Tales at the Stephen Joseph Theatre) proved popular and late night shows were scheduled. Art exhibitions were arranged in the Studio space and music concerts were introduced. The latter became a very significant part of this venue's existence ranging from lunchtime recitals to Sunday night rock concert seasons. One such example of the diversity was the launch on 13 July 1992 of the Knife, Folk & Spoon Monday lunch concert series which put local folk artists into the spotlight. That year also saw the introduction of Friday lunchtime jazz recitals with Square Cat Jazz; named after the venue's bistro The Square Cat (itself named after Alan Ayckbourn's first play).

14 July: It's the big day. On 14 July 1955, the Library Theatre opened its doors to the public for the first time. More than six decades on and the Stephen Joseph Theatre - named in honour of its founder - continues to thrive in Scarborough and champion the principles on which Stephen founded it: new writing and theatre-in-the-round. The Library Theatre opened with a production of a new play, Circle Of Love by Eleanor D Glaser and the first season would consist entirely of new work. Notably that season contained four plays, three of which were written by women; Stephen Joseph's new writing policy was extraordinarily progressive and no other theatre during this period can claim to be so supportive of new writing by women.

15 July: During the 1980s, the company had its own cricket team - which included Alan Ayckbourn - called the Stephen Joseph Occasionals. Arguably the team's biggest match took place on 15 July 1984 when it faced off against a team from the National Theatre at Staxton Village cricket ground. It is not recorded in the archive who won the match.

16 July: Over the years, the Stephen Joseph Theatre has been visited by many notable people often for its platform / tea time talks series and occasionally for performances. One of the earliest performances was an evening organised by The Friends of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1978 in which the television celebrity Nicholas Parsons visited the theatre with his show We British, or Oh Britannia. It wasn't an auspicious evening though with the Friends noting it has a 'disappointingly small' audience. Other notable artists to have performed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre include Sir John Mortimer, Ken Campbell, Dora Bryan, Pam Ayres, Janie Dee, Simon Callow, Nigel Planer, Clive Francis, John Hegley, Dr John Cooper Clarke and Russell Brand. One of the most successful visitors didn't actually perform in the theatre but in aid of it; in March 1995, Maureen Lipman performed her show Re:Joyce at the Spa Theatre to raise money for the new Stephen Joseph Theatre.

17 July: In 1972, the Library Theatre staged its first play by Anton Chekhov with Alan Ayckbourn directing Uncle Vanya. The play opened on 17 July and featured Christopher Godwin in the lead role - Christopher is one of the company's most prolific actors. Alan Ayckbourn has always noted Chekhov has been a huge inspiration for him, although there have been relatively few productions by the playwright at the SJT over the decades. The most notable probably being Alan Ayckbourn's adaptation of Uncle Vanya with Dear Uncle in 2011, in which the action is transposed to the Lake District during the 1930s.

18 July: On 18 July 1964, Scarborough Theatre Trust was incorporated as a company and, since which, has been responsible for running the Library Theatre through to the Stephen Joseph Theatre today. Scarborough Theatre Trust was created after the Library Theatre's founding company, Studio Theatre Ltd, moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1962 with the opening of the Victoria Theatre. With not enough funds to run both the Victoria Theatre and Library Theatre, Studio Theatre Ltd cut the Scarborough theatre loose and Stephen Joseph founded a new company to take it forward. Between 1962 and 1964, the Library Theatre was run by another company owned by Stephen called Theatre In The Round Ltd.

19 July: One of the least appreciated roles in bringing plays to the stage is that of the lighting designer; an essential role in any production but especially so in theatre-in-the-round which is practically a separate skill-set in itself to achieve well. One of the most notable lighting designers with the company was Jackie Staines, who is first credited as a lighting designer for a main-house production with June Moon, which opened on 19 July 1989. Jackie worked at the company between 1988 and 1995 and was responsible for lighting more than 50 productions as well as writing the book Lighting Techniques For Theatre In The Round. Other notable designers during the history of the company are Mick Hughes and Jason Taylor - who have frequently worked on Alan Ayckbourn's premieres, Kath Geraghty, Mark 'Tigger' Johnson, Francis Lynch and Mick Thomas.

21 July: There have been quite a few television and radio recordings and live broadcasts at the various homes of the Stephen Joseph Theatre over the years. One of the most notable was a recording of the popular BBC quiz show Mastermind on 21 July 1997. The programme's original presenter Magnus Magnusson brought the famed black chair to The Round for the recording.

22 July: Between 2001 and 2005, the Stephen Joseph Theatre held a series of popular week-long events called Ayckbourn And The Round. These events attracted participants from around the globe and offered the chance to spend a week with Alan Ayckbourn and his company in the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Participants were able to see productions and rehearsals as well as being involved in masterclasses and special guest talks amongst other events. 22 July 2005 marked the final day of the final event as, sadly, a sold-out 2006 event had to be cancelled following Alan Ayckbourn's stroke in the same year and his announcement of his retirement from the theatre the following year meant the Ayckbourn And The Round events were never revived.

23 July: There have been a number of playwrights who had their professional debuts who have gone onto considerable success as playwrights, not least Alan Ayckbourn. One of these playwrights is Torben Betts, whose first professionally produced play - A Listening Heaven - opened in The McCarthy at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on 23 July 1999. Torben is regarded as an important voice in British playwrighting today and has had received acclaim and success in London with Invincible and Muswell Hill. He has had five plays premiered at the SJT with the others being Clockwatching, Her Slightest Touch, The Swing Of Things and The National Joke. He has frequently spoken how important the SJT was in helping to launch his playwriting career in interviews.

24 July: On 24 July 1979, the 100th new play to be produced by the Stephen Joseph Theatre was premiered. This was Tishoo by Brian Thompson, the second of three plays written by him to be premiered at the venue alongside Patriotic Bunting and The Conservatory. The play opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round and then became one of the fastest plays to transfer to the West End with a production just three months after the Scarborough run had finished.

25 July: There have been comparatively few visits to the Stephen Joseph Theatre by embers of the Royal family since 1955, but on 25 July 1990, HRH Princess Alexandra attended a production of Alan Ayckbourn's Body Language in aid of the charity Sight Savers.

26 July: The first adaptation of an existing work was premiered at the Library Theatre on 26 July 1956 with Jurneman Winch's Wuthering Heights. This was directed by Stephen Joseph and essentially condensed Emily Brontë's novel into the love story between Cathy and Heathcliff. Although the name of the playwright suggests otherwise, it was written by a woman - Joan Winch - who was also featured in the company's inaugural season in 1955 with her play Turn Right At The Crossroads. Joan was the only female writer at the Library Theatre who worked under a male pseudonym, although the reason for this has never been clear.

27 July: In 1962, Stephen Joseph founded the Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, the first purpose-built professional theatre-in-the-round venue in the UK (the Library Theatre in Scarborough founded in 1955 by Stephen Joseph was not a permanent venue and thus is regarded as the UK's first professional theatre-in-the-round company). The Victoria is now called the New Vic and is based in Newcastle-under-Lyme and is regarded as the Stephen Joseph Theatre's sister theatre as both were founded by Stephen Joseph. Despite their long history, it was not until 2001 that a New Vic production toured to the SJT with a production of She Knows You Know! by Jean Fergusson opening on 27 July 2000. Since then, the companies have frequently toured productions between each other each year.

28 July: In its inaugural season in 1955, the Library Theatre staged the world premiere of Dragons Are Dangerous by David Campton on 28 July. This marked the debut of David Campton as a writer for the company and who would become its first resident playwright. David would have a new play premiered each year at the Library Theatre, generally directed by Stephen Joseph, until 1965 and was also the General Manager of the venue for a number of years. Although David went onto considerable success as a playwright - and his plays are still popular today particularly within the amateur community - his last play performed at the Library Theatre was in 1972 with Carmilla and his work has never been produced by the company since despite his important legacy.

29 July: In 1965, David Campton's play Cock & Bull Story premiered at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, marking the final production at the Library Theatre to be directed by its founder Stephen Joseph. Having directed the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's break-out play Meet My Father (later re-titled Relatively Speaking) earlier in the same season, he would then direct David's play as his - unknown at the time - swan song. Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1966 and would never direct again the company he founded in 1955.

30 July: A very significant date for the Stephen Joseph Theatre as on 30 July 1959, Alan Ayckbourn's first play The Square Cat premiered at the Library Theatre in Scarborough. Alan was just 20 years old when the play was produced and it began a remarkable playwriting career which continues to this day. The Square Cat was commissioned after Alan complained about the quality of his acting roles (Alan was at the time primarily an actor for the company). Stephen Joseph, who knew Alan had an interest in playwriting, thus challenged him to write a play if he thought he could do better and if it was any good, he would stage it. The result was The Square Cat in which Alan starred in a dual role which required him to sing and play the guitar. Neither of which Alan was particularly good at - perhaps he should have had a word with the playwright!

31 July: Another significant Ayckbourn premiere when the Library Theatre opened How The Other Half Loves on 31 July 1969. This play, which is considered ground-breaking in its use of juxtaposed sets and simultaneous action in different locales - occasionally in different times - helped cement Alan Ayckbourn's reputation as a major playwriting talent when it opened in the West End in 1970 starring Robert Morley. The original production was directed by Alan Ayckbourn himself marking the second time he had directed his own work at the Library Theatre following The Sparrow in 1967.

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.