Stephen Joseph Theatre Significant Dates: August

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

1 August:
Playwriting talent drawn from Scarborough is not hugely common during the history of the theatre, but there have been several playwrights drawn from the area who have been produced at the theatre. One of these was the lecturer Eric Prince, whose play Red Roses opened in The Restaurant at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on 1 August 2002. Dr Prince went on to become a foremost scholar on the work of Samuel Beckett and also had the world premiere of his play Love Is In The Air produced at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1994. Other writers who have either been born or lived in Scarborough to have work premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre include Susan Hill, Steve Carley and, of course, Alan Ayckbourn.

2 August: The first ever full-house at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, was reported on 2 August 1955. This was the theatre's first season and Stephen Joseph had calculated he needed an audience of at least 100 people every night if the theatre was to break even during the season. Sadly, thanks to a heat-wave, the theatre between 14 July and 1 August barely had audiences breaking 70 and notice had been given the theatre might have to close early. On 2 August, the theatre's fortunes turned and its first full house was reported with audiences strong for the rest of the season. The full house, it has to be noted, was primarily due to Scarborough reverting to type with the heat-wave breaking producing a torrential downpour on that day, leading to tourists scurrying to under-cover entertainment. Alan Ayckbourn has frequently noted that one hoped for rain particularly just prior to matinee performances during the company's early years as it frequently boosted audience figures!

3 August: Although the Stephen Joseph Theatre has had a number of plays premiered by the company which have gone on to be produced by the National Theatre, there is only one instance in the company's history when the Stephen Joseph Theatre and the National Theatre co-produced a play. The first night of Two Weeks With The Queen took place on 3 August 1994 and was a co-production of a play by Mary Morris adapted from the award-winning young adult's novel by Morris Gleitzman. The production transferred to the National Theatre following its run in Scarborough and went on to win the 1994 Martini / TMA Award for best Play for Children and Young People.

5 August: The first recorded complaint about swearing in a play at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, was made in 1971 for a production of Howard Brenton's Revenge, which opened on 5 August. The Vicar of St Martin's Church was reported by the Scarborough Theatre Trust board to have complained about the amount of swearing and violence in the play, despite warnings having been put up in both the theatre and in the local press. The Trust reported that the unnamed vicar, on behalf of the Scarborough Council of Churches, had written to both the town and county council about the issue.

6 August: The Stephen Joseph Theatre opened in April 1996, but its first lunchtime play did not open until 6 August 1997. Lunchtime shows had become a significant part of the programme at the previous home of the company, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, and would soon become just as important at its new home. The first lunchtime play, presented in the theatre's restaurant, was Alas, Poor Fred by James Saunders which, fittingly, had received its world premiere at the Library Theatre in 1959. Although this was the first play to be presented at lunchtime at the new venue, there had been two musical entertainments Just A Song At Lunchtime I & II presented earlier in the season.

7 August: In 2013, the Literary Department at the Stephen Joseph Theatre was re-opened following an eight-year hiatus. The first major result of which was the production ScreenPlay which opened on 7 August 2014 in the McCarthy Theatre directed by the theatre's Associate Director and Literary Manager Henry Bell. The production consisted of four new plays submitted to the theatre which were set in the former Odeon cinema in which the Stephen Joseph Theatre was based. The plays which formed ScreenPlay were An Empty Seat by Jimmy Osborne, The Illicit Dark by Isabel Wright, Double Feature by Kate Brower and Bit Part by Claudine Toutoungi.

8 August: A major collaboration between the Stephen Joseph Theatre and the National Youth Music Theatre saw one of the most ambitious productions ever staged at the venue. On 8 August 2013, Alan Ayckbourn and Denis King's musical Orvin - Champion Of Champions opened at the SJT featuring a cast of more than 40 young people. This was also presented for two weeks at the height of the summer season in The Round and directed by Alan Ayckbourn and Laurie Sansom offering an extraordinary opportunity for talented youngsters drawn from around the UK.

9 August: A key moment in the development of the present home of the company took place on 9 August 1993 when Shepherd Design And Build officially began work on the conversion of Scarborough's former Odeon cinema into a £5.2m state-of-the-art theatre complex. Artistic Director Alan Ayckbourn donned a hard hat to hand over the key to the building to Paul Shepherd, Managing Director of Shepherd. Work on the ambitious project would be completed in April 1996.

10 August: The Stephen Joseph Theatre has always been renowned for promoting new playwrights, a number of whom - such as Alan Ayckbourn and Stephen Mallatratt - were drawn from within the company itself. Another actor turned playwright was Michael Cashman who joined the company as an actor in 1982 and also wrote his first two full-length plays with Before Your Very Eyes, which opened on 10 August 1983, and Bricks 'n' Mortar in 1984 in Scarborough. Michael, of course, did not go onto a playwriting career. After a successful stint as the first major gay character on a British soap opera in the BBC's EastEnders, he moved into politics and was an MEP between 1999 and 2014.

11 August: The 200th new play to be produced by the company opened on 11 August 1998 with Tim Firth's musical Love Songs For Shopkeepers. The production was staged at the Stephen Joseph Theatre as part of the 10x10 season (10 world or British premieres performed by a company of 10 actors).

12 August: It's not well-known that amongst the many playwrights to have debuted work with the company, the popular Northern playwright and screenwriter Alan Plater had two plays debuted at the Library Theatre. His first, See The Pretty Lights, opened on 12 August 1965 and was directed by the famed BBC Radio Producer Alfred Bradley. Alan Plater's Hop, Step & Jump also premiered at the theatre in 1967 and was the opening play after the theatre was re-launched as a professional venue having been closed by Stephen Joseph at the end of the 1965 season.

13 August: In 2005, the Stephen Joseph Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary and as part of this a week of nostalgic events called 50 Years New was organised. Each evening celebrating a decade of the theatre's existence. The final night saw a rather special event with the first and - so far - only performance of Alan Ayckbourn's Untitled Farce. This was a one act rehearsed reading performed by members of Alan's acting company that summer and a rare foray into pure farce by the playwright. Only the first act was written, so much of the action was never resolved but it proved to be a unique Ayckbourn experience for the 400 people who attended.

14 August: Following Stephen Joseph's death in 1967, there was a concerted effort to find a permanent new home for the Library Theatre. The first to receive serious consideration was the former Claremont print-works on Castle Road in Scarborough. On 14 August 1971, the architect George Alderson reported the cost of buying the building would be £25,000 with an additional £50,000 needed to convert it to a theatre space; at that point the theatre had raised £18,539 towards funding the move to a new home.

16 August: When Stephen Joseph launched the Library Theatre in Scarborough on 14 July 1955, there was no guarentee of success or that the company would even stage a second season. Despite a disappointing start to the season - largely attributed to a heatwave which kept audiences away - the theatre did achieve a measure of success and although there was a financial loss, Stephen wrote to the Chief Librarian of Scarborough Library on 16 August 1955 to provisionally make a booking for the company for a second summer season in 1956. From there, the company would keep running to the present day.

17 August: The world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's Private Fears In Public Places took place on 17 August 2004. This is both an unusual and significant play in the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Unusual in that it wasn't originally scheduled as part of the 2004 summer season; whilst rehearsing his new play at the SJT, Drowning On Dry Land, Alan Ayckbourn announced he had had another idea for the company. The result was Private Fears In Public Places, a play unlike anything he had written before with 54 short scenes and no interval chronicling the lives of 30-something Londoners. The significance of the play came when the following year it became the first of Alan's plays to tour to the Brits Off Broadway festival in New York. There was a huge element of risk for the theatre taking the play to New York, but the response was extraordinary. The play garnered some of the best reviews of Alan Ayckbourn's long career, the company were compared to the best on Broadway and it broke box office records at the festival. It also began a regular tour to the festival by the SJT.

18 August: In 1975, Alan Ayckbourn announced he was to begin work on his new untitled play offering an insight into how he wrote his plays at this time. In a media interview, he noted he had to have the title for the new play ready for publicity by the following week - despite the fact he had no idea what the play would be about! In this case, the title was Just Between Ourselves; like many of his titles, it is unspecific to the play itself. This was par for the course though at the time as Alan would give a title to the publicity department - and if very lucky an idea of plot - and they would advertise the play with barest of information. Frequently during the 1970s, the advertising material actually highlights that no-one has any idea what the play is about. Alan would then write the play as late as possible, frequently delivering it the day before rehearsals began as he would say he needed to have a deadline to work to! Pity the poor publicity department until 1987, when - having had to submit A Small Family Business to the National Theatre a year in advance - Alan began writing his plays far earlier.

19 August: In 1992, the playwright Jim Cartwright premiered his award-winning play The Rise & Fall of Little Voice, which was set in an unspecified northern town. In 1998, the play was adapted into an acclaimed movie, Little Voice, which was filmed and set in Scarborough leading the play to be associated with the town. However, the play did not receive its professional premiere in Scarborough until 15 June 2017 when it was directed by the Artistic Director Paul Robinson in The Round as part of his first summer season at the venue. The play's run ended on 19 August 2017.

20 August: This date marks two significant firsts for the company. In 1997, this marked the premiere of Robert Shearman's first play for the theatre White Lies at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. Robert is one of several prominent writers nurtured by the theatre during this period (including Tim Firth) and would also write several other one act and full-length plays for the SJT. He has gone onto a very successful writing career in theatre, television (writing the classic episode Dalek for the relaunched BBC series Doctor Who in 2005) as well as winning multiple awards for his prose. The second significant first was in on this date in 1992, the actress Janie Dee made her first appearance with the company in Alan Ayckbourn's play with music Dreams From A Summer House. Then largely unknown, Janie was a huge success in the play and has returned to the theatre on numerous occasions since most notably for her award-winning role as the android Jacie in Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential which she performed in Scarborough, the West End and in New York.

21 August: On 21 August 1995, a production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round marking Alan Ayckbourn's final production as a director at the venue. This was a late night production in the Studio and Alan Ayckbourn would next direct the musical By Jeeves, the opening production of the new Stephen Joseph Theatre in April 1996.

22 August: The current home of the company, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, opened in 1996 and was a £5.2m conversion of the town's former Odeon cinema. Fund-raising took place over four years and encompassed a variety of different events. During the summer of 1995, these also included several solo shows by performers from within the acting company to help raise funds for the theatre. On 22 August, Jane Hollowood opened with her acclaimed show Dorothy Parker's Dead and the other plays were Hovering and Taylor's Tickler both starring Richard Derrington.

23 August: There has been, over the decades, a huge misconception that Alan Ayckbourn is a farceur; a label pinned to him during his early success in London and which, unfortunately and inaccurately, stuck to him for many years. Yet Alan Ayckbourn considers he has only ever written one true full-length farce (Taking Steps) during his entire career. So the debut on 23 August 2013 of Farcicals was quite significant as it saw the lunch of two one-act farces by the playwright - and not only has the playwright not written many farces but also not many one act plays, making them doubly unusual. The Farcicals ran in repertory with his full-length plays Time Of My Life and Arrivals & Departures and were designed as a marked contrast to the darker nature of the full-length plays.

25 August: The final play to be directed at the Library Theatre by its Artistic Director, Alan Ayckbourn, was - perhaps surprisingly - not one of his own plays. On 25 August 1976, the world premiere of Stephen Mallatratt's second play Mother Country opened at the Library Theatre and marked the final production Alan would direct at the theatre. Stephen is one of the most significant playwriting talents to have emerged from the company - where he initially started as an actor - and was most notably responsible for the internationally famous adaptation of Susan Hill's The Woman In Black.

26 August: Something not commonly seen at the current home of the company, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, is the late night show - a production generally starting after the evening's main-house performance had finished. Yet late night shows were frequently presented at the company's second home, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round - indeed the infamous world premiere production of The Woman In Black had late night performances. The first late night show in the company's history took place at this venue with the world premiere of Stephen Lowe's Shooting, Fishing & Riding in the theatre's Studio space on 26 August 1977. It also featured an early appearance by the actor Robin Herford who had joined the company for the summer season and would go onto become closely associated with theatre over the years which followed.

27 August: Stephen Joseph publicly announced he was to close the Library Theatre in Scarborough on 27 August 1965 in an article in the Scarborough Evening News. Having been at the venue for 11 years, Stephen criticised Scarborough Town Council for its lack of support in helping to improve the venue or help in finding the company a new home. The article ended with Stephen saying: "It seems we have no choice to find our own theatre, even if it means - as it most probably will - that we must move from Scarborough at the end of this season." When the season finished in September, Stephen closed the Library Theatre with no intention of it ever re-opening. It was only through the industrious work of the amateur theatrical Ken Boden that professional theatre resumed at the venue two years later in 1967.

28 August: Eleven years after Stephen Joseph closed the Library Theatre - only for it to re-open - the Library Theatre did close and the company moved to its second home, Theatre In The Round At Westwood (later known as the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round). Work began on converting the former Westwood County Modern School's ground floor into a theatre on 28 August 1976 and the work was completed in just 60 days at a budget of just £38,000! Apparently work on finishing the theatre was taking place literally until the doors opened to the public on 26 October 1976.

29 August: Martin Freeman is arguably one of the world's most famous actors having been propelled to international fame through the likes of the hit TV series Sherlock and Fargo as well as playing Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit movie trilogy. Yet back in 1996, the young actor was part of the first season's company at the recently opened Stephen Joseph Theatre. He appeared in two productions in the 1996 season, A Going Concern by Stephen Jeffreys and Martin Crimp's Dealing With Clair, which opened on 29 August 1996. He would also return the following year to play the Actor in the 10th anniversary revival of Stephen Mallatratt's The Woman In Black opposite Peter Laird.

30 August: Legend has it that when the Stephen Joseph Theatre opened in 1996, its Artistic Director Alan Ayckbourn was asked, if he could have anyone perform at the venue, who would it be? If it's to be believed, he replied the jazz singer Stacey Kent and two years later on 30 August 1998, the acclaimed and award-winning singer made the first of several appearances at the venue.

31 August: Re-opened in 1967 after Stephen Joseph closed the Library Theatre in 1965, the venue proved its viability immediately when on 31 August 1967, The Stage newspaper reported the Library Theatre had had its most successful season ever with an average of 80% houses across the entire season.

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.