Stephen Joseph Theatre Significant Dates: October

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

1 October:
The Stephen Joseph Theatre marked the centenary of the birth of Charles Laughton on 1 October 1999 with a production of Harold Brighouse's play Hobson's Choice. Laughton was born in Scarborough, just yards from the SJT in what is now the Victoria Hotel. Hobson's Choice was one of Laughton's most famous film roles and hence chosen for the anniversary production. Although Laughton had no direct connection to the Stephen Joseph Theatre, there are two indirect links. Firstly, his brother, Tom, was a keen supporter of the theatre and chairman of Scarborough Theatre Trust for several years and, secondly, Laughton was a special guest at the opening night of Scarborough's Odeon cinema in 1936 which was later converted into the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

2 October: One of the most technically ambitious productions ever staged by the company opened on 2 October 1981 with Alan Ayckbourn's Way Upstream. The play required the entire stage at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round to be flooded to represent a canal with a cabin cruiser on it. The boat had to be able to move and create numerous effects and the play also required a thunderstorm and downpour during the course of the action. Despite having less than six weeks to put the production together, the play was a huge success and had few notable technical issues. Unfortunately, when the play was produced by the National Theatre in 1982 - and despite all the theatre's resources, staff and finances - it was plagued by serious technical difficulties. The SJT revived the play in 2003 with an even more ambitious production, which again suffered no major technical difficulties.

3 October: One of the many fund-raising events organised for the £5.2m conversion of Scarborough's former Odeon cinema into the new Stephen Joseph Theatre was a concert by the late comedienne Victoria Wood. This took place on 3 October 1994 and saw Victoria Wood perform to a sell-out audience at the Spa Theatre in Scarborough. She was supported by the group Jazz Vehicle and even Wall's ice cream donated all proceeds from sales of its Solero ice cream to the theatre fund that evening.

5 October: A tragic day in the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre occurred on 5 October 1967 when its founder Stephen Joseph died at his home in Scarborough. Stephen had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver in 1966 and yet, despite this, had remained as active as possible until the end writing two books (Theatre In The Round and New Theatre Forms). He died at the age of 46 having formed both the UK's first professional theatre-in-the-round company at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, and the UK's first professional in-the-round venue at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent.

7 October: An indication of the early success of the Library Theatre was Stephen Joseph's decision in the summer of 1957 (two years after the venue had opened) to gauge interest in a winter season. By this point, Stephen believed the theatre was gaining a good following in the town and that it might be enough to sustain a winter season - given that it would rely almost entirely on the local population as it would be out of the tourist season. The response to his suggestion was so great that Stephen applied to the Libraries Commission for permission for a winter season and was granted it on 7 October 1957. The season would run from 10 December 1957 to 5 January 1958 and include J.B. Priestley's I Have Been Here Before, John Osborne's Look Back In Anger, August Strindberg's Lucky Peter's Travels and David Campton's The Lunatic View.

8 October: On 8 October 1997, a revival of Alan Ayckbourn's 1974 play Absent Friends opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre directed by the playwright himself. Notable amongst the cast was Tamzin Outhwaite as Evelyn. Tamzin had appeared earlier in the year in the chorus of Alan's production of the musical They're Playing Our Song and had so impressed the playwright, he invited her to play the key role in Absent Friends. The following year she was cast in the BBC soap opera EastEnders and went on to become a major television star.

9 October: In 1955, Stephen Joseph formed the UK's first professional theatre-in-the-round company in the UK at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. However, he was constantly searching for a permanent home for theatre-in-the-round in the UK rather than the temporary, seasonal nature of Scarborough. Theatre-in-the-round found its first permanent home when the Victoria Theatre opened on 9 October 1962 in Stoke-on-Trent. The theatre was a conversion of a former cinema and Stephen Joseph chose Peter Cheeseman to run the venue, who would be its Artistic Director from 1962 to 1998 when he retired. In 1986, the company moved to its present home, The New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme, which was Europe's first purpose-built theatre-in-the-round venue.

11 October: The only time on record that the Stephen Joseph Theatre has ever had to cancel a production due to illness or injury took place in 1977 when, on 11 October, the actress Petronella Ford left the company due to illness. She was appearing in Pygmalion at the time and for the final five performances, her role was taken over by Heather Stoney. More problematic was her lead role in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, which was in repertory at the time and whose final two weeks had to be cancelled. The gap in the schedule was replaced by a revival of The Guv'nor and an extra week's run for A Man For All Seasons.

12 October: On this day in 1966, the Library Theatre's founder and Artistic Director Stephen Joseph stepped down as chairman of Scarborough Theatre Trust, essentially leaving the theatre company he founded in 1955. Stephen had closed the Library Theatre the previous year, but agreed to a plan by the theatre manager Ken Boden to re-open the theatre in 1967. As part of the re-launch, Stephen handed over control of Scarborough Theatre Trust to a new board and stepped down as chairman. That Stephen was by then quite ill with cancer was also evident in that shortly after the announcement, he had to leave the meeting due to his condition.

13 October: Alan Ayckbourn's acclaimed play My Wonderful Day opened on 13 October 2009 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. It is notable as being the quickest transfer of an Ayckbourn play to New York as no sooner had the company finished its run in Scarborough, the production transferred to the 59E59 Theaters, New York, as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival. The play was a critical and commercial success in New York receiving an American Drama Desk Award nomination for both Outstanding Play and Outstanding Actress for Ayesha Antoine.

14 October: One of the most well-known plays of the 1970s was staged at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1992 with a production of Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh. The play originally premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in April 1977 but it is better known for the TV recording of this production, starring Alison Steadman, which is regarded as a classic of the period. The Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round's production was directed by Malcolm Hebden and is, as of writing, the only Mike Leigh play to have been produced by the company.

15 October: A new playwriting talent was showcased by the Library Theatre on this day in 1975 with the world premiere of Stephen Mallatratt's first play, An Englishman's Home. Stephen had been an actor with the company since 1974 and was encouraged to write by Alan Ayckbourn, who directed An Englishman's Home and described it as a "practically perfect first play." Stephen would go on to write many more plays not least his classic adaptation of Susan Hill's ghost story The Woman In Black, which is one of the longest running shows in the West End. He would also have a very successful screen-writing career working on the soap opera Coronation Street for many years.

17 October: On 17 October 2006, the Stephen Joseph Theatre opened its 100th new play since opening in 1996 with Alan Ayckbourn's If I Were You. Notably this was also the first play to be directed by Alan following his stroke in February of the same year.

19 October: Alan Ayckbourn's acclaimed revival of Herb Gardner's Conversations With My Father at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, transferred to the Old Vic on 19 October 1994. The transfer featured the original Scarborough company, led by Judd Hirsch, and the production was equally well-received in London.

21 October: Scarborough's Odeon cinema closed its doors for the final time on 21 October 1988 with the final film being Buster starring Phil Collins. Original plans for the derelict building largely centred on turning it into a bingo hall, but Alan Ayckbourn had an audacious plan to convert the former cinema into a new home for the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. This came to fruition in April 1996 when, following a £5.2m conversion, the building opened as the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

23 October: Alan Ayckbourn made headlines when it was reported he was to stop his plays being produced in the West End in 2002. Having always had an uneasy relationship with the West End, matters came to a head with the West End production of his Damsels In Distress trilogy which saw the original Scarborough company transfer to the West End. Whilst on holiday in France, Alan was told the producers had decided to essentially only present one of the plays, eliminating the other two from the repertory. Outraged by this and not having been consulted about the decision, Alan announced there would be a moratorium on his new work opening in London. There were no Ayckbourn productions in the West End for several years and although revivals are now allowed, no Ayckbourn play written since 2002 has been produced in the West End (although several have been produced in fringe theatres).

24 October: The Duchess Of Gloucester visited the Stephen Joseph Theatre on 24 October 2005.

25 October: The Stephen Joseph Theatre first co-production with the acclaimed dance company Frantic Assembly opened on 25 October 2005. The production was Villette, based on Charlotte Brontë's novel, and was directed by the theatre's Associate Director Laurie Sansom, who would go on to become the Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland.

26 October: The Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round - or Theatre In The Round At Westwood as it was originally called - opened on this day in 1976. This was the second home of the company after the Library Theatre. The venue was based at the former Westwood County Modern School and was initially intended as a short-term home for the company whilst a permanent home was never built. The new theatre was never built and the company stayed at 'Westwood' for 20 years. The opening production was the Scarborough premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's play Mr Whatnot.

27 October: The opening night in 1998 of the Stephen Joseph Theatre's production of Ibsen's A Doll's House. Directed by Alan Ayckbourn, this was the company's first production of an Ibsen play and - as of writing - remains it's only one.

28 October: World premiere of Fiona Evans' play The Price Of Everything at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2010. Evans made her name with the play Scarborough and has had two plays premiered at the SJT with the second being Geordie Sinatra (2012).

29 October: In 2007, it was announced the Stephen Joseph Theatre's Archivist - Simon Murgatroyd - and the British Library had discovered Alan Ayckbourn's long-thought lost second play, Love After All. The play, discovered in the Lord Chamberlain's Collection at the British Library was first performed in December 1959 at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, and this is believed to be the only surviving manuscript of the play.

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.