New Writing: The Library Theatre

In 1955, the theatre pioneer Stephen Joseph opened the Library Theatre in Scarborough. At the time, much of the attention was focused on its theatre-in-the-round staging - practically unique, certainly in professional theatre, in the UK during that period. Yet whilst championing new theatre forms such as in-the-round was undoubtedly an essential part of Stephen Joseph's aims, just as important to him was the championing of new writing and new writers. It was on these foundations the Library Theatre was created, to promote new theatre forms and new writing. In context, the in-the-round format was also a cost-effective way of staging new plays by new and rising playwrights.

It is remarkable to consider that a small regional theatre was opened with this remit a full year before the Royal Court would open in London, which is largely considered the first British modern theatre dedicated to encouraging new writing.

In its inaugural season in 1955, Stephen Joseph unveiled a season of four plays at the Library Theatre, all of which were new and all of which were written by new writers. Often over-looked is the fact three of the four writers were also female; highly unusual for the time. A glance over the Royal Court’s history confirms a paucity of female writing talent in the early years. Stephen looked to encourage talent wherever he found it and after his death, his successor Alan Ayckbourn embraced the legacy and placed it at the heart of a company.

This also typified Stephen's desire to encourage anyone to write - no matter their sex or age - producing a remarkably eclectic range of playwrights during Stephen Joseph's tenure as Artistic Director of the venue.

New writing has always been at the heart of the Scarborough company as demonstrated by the remarkable achievement when in 2012, the theatre unveiled its 300th new play. That is 300 plays in 57 years by more than 100 playwrights; a remarkable achievement for any theatre.

The most obvious achievement of Stephen’s policy was the discovery and encouragement of Alan Ayckbourn, now one of the world’s most successful and popular playwrights. However, the new writing policy has helped launch the career of many notable writers and seen the premiere of plays by more established writers. During the past five decades, writers such as Torben Betts, Vanessa Brooks, Ben Brown, David Campton, David Cregan, Tim Firth, John Godber, Susan Hill, Vicky Ireland, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, Ged McKenna, Stephen Mallatratt, Sarah Phelps, Alan Plater, James Saunders, Robert Shearman, Mike Stott, Brian Thompson, Peter Tinniswood, Nick Warburton and Chris York have all had world premieres in Scarborough; many of them have had their writing careers launched or had important early successes such as Tim Firth and Ben Brown.

Since the Library Theatre opened in 1955, the Stephen Joseph company has staged 654 professional play productions of which 335 were world premieres as of December 2020.

New Writing Facts

The Library Theatre

Years: 1955 - 1978
World Premieres: 79
Total Plays: 161

Notable Playwrights
Alan Ayckbourn
Leonard Barras
David Campton
Janet Dale
J.W. James
Peter King
Stephen Mallatratt
Alan Plater
Mike Stott
Clifford Williams
Colin Wilson
Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round

Years: 1976 - 1996
World Premieres: 106
Total Plays: 233

Notable Playwrights
Alan Ayckbourn
Vanessa Brooks
Michael Cashman
Tim Firth
Blake Heathcote
Stephen Mallatratt
Robert Shearman
Alison Skilbeck
Brian Thompson
Peter Tinniswood
Stephen Joseph Theatre

Years: 1996 - present
World Premieres: 151
Total Plays: 251

Notable Playwrights
Alan Ayckbourn
Torben Betts
Ben Brown
David Cregan
Fiona Evans
Tim Firth
John Godber
Helen Kelly
Nick Lane
Ged McKenna
Marks & Gran
Sarah Phelps
Jane Thornton
Claudine Toutoungi
Nick Warburton
Chris York
All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without crediting the website and author.