Advocates: Ian Watson

Ian Watson (1942 - 2007) first came into contact with Stephen Joseph as a drama student at the University Of Manchester and would work for him at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, near the end of Stephen's Life. He was a passionate advocate of Stephen Joseph throughout his own life and would go on to work at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, and also later became the general manager of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. He was predominately known for his extensive work in arts administration and would also write one of the essential books on Alan Ayckbourn, Conversations With Ayckbourn.
A published quote from 1976 is reproduced here followed by Ian Watson's own introduction to the latter book, which touches upon his work with Stephen Joseph.

"He taught me everything l ever knew about theatre. He was an incredible human being, very generous and lively. He wasn't a doctrinaire man at all. Although he set up the Scarborough company as a theatre-in-the-round company, he didn't want everybody to embrace theatre-in-the-round as the only form drama should take. He was a complete lover of all forms of theatre. The only reason he shouted for it was that no-one else did. But then he was misrepresented as a fanatic.
"He was very interested in the theatre as a two-sided operation. For him the audience was as important as the actors and the stage technicians, and he was all for maximising the relationship between the actor and his audience. He was no great fan of the Sean Kenny approach - he thought machinery got in the way of that relationship.
"He didn't like London. He did a lot of touring - and he went to silly places like Hemel Hempstead and Newcastle-under-Lyme. And then converted that theatre in Stoke-on-Trent with his own hands.
"He would say that there were other forms beside the 19th century serving hatch kind of theatre. The image he always used to use was of a meal: lf you went out to a restaurant you wouldn't expect to find the same meal all the way down the menu, and the theatre should be the same.
Before he died he was talking of a 'fish-and-chip' theatre, where instead of going to a seat you could wander about while the play went on and buy your fish and chips.
"And he had this great gift for bringing out new talent, of which Alan Ayckbourn must be the prime example."

Introduction to Conversations With Ayckbourn
"It was in Scarborough that Stephen Joseph found the right mix of circumstances and individuals to base a revolution in British theatre that was precisely contemporaneous with the revolution George Devine was fostering with his stable of writers in Sloane Square. While Joseph, like Devine, was running a writers’ theatre, it was on theatre form rather than the subject-matter of plays that his revolution was based.

"In retrospect, the cause of theatre-in-the-round might appear a limited one on which to base a revolution. Indeed, at the time, the journal of the young theatre turks who regarded the Royal Court as their Mecca - the much lamented
Encore (incidentally edited by a man who worked with Stephen Joseph’s company, the late Clive Goodwin) - while broadly acknowledging Joseph’s work as bringing much-needed new perspectives into a dangerously moribund theatre, tended to regard his obsession with theatre form as, at best, a little irrelevant. For them, social content was all. The theatre Establishment was more virulent: to a man, it embraced the new-found phobias of that prophet of Devine’s revolution, Kenneth Tynan, concerning the rear view of actors and the uncomfortable proximity of their perspiration. Even when the Establishment succumbed to Joseph’s unfailingly charming rationalism and enthusiasm, it dismissed his passion for opening out the proscenium arch as sheer battiness. With the benefit of hindsight, it is impossible not to note that he was personally responsible for founding two of Britain’s most exciting theatres - those in Scarborough and Stoke-on-Trent - and that, without his influence, many other theatres, including the National Theatre on London’s South Bank, would, at best, have been far less stimulating structures.

"About Stephen Joseph’s influence on playwrights it is inevitably more difficult to give chapter and verse. He helped, fostered, tutored and gave opportunity to a great many. After the initial failure of
The Birthday Party, he picked up and encouraged Harold Pinter. He guided and worked with David Campton, James Saunders, Mike Stott and the American playwright Michael Weller. And, of course, he drew out the mammoth writing talent of a teenage actor in his Scarborough company, Alan Ayckbourn.

"Stephen Joseph’s theatre in Scarborough was not the first theatre I had ever seen, but it was the first to give me ambition. Stephen, ever available to his audience, recognised and encouraged that ambition, and I became a student of his in the Drama Department at Manchester University. I first worked for him at Stoke-on-Trent in the traumatic period when, during his final illness, he was warring with another of his protégés whom he had appointed Director there, the excellent Peter Cheeseman."

Copyright: Ian Watson. The introduction extract is reproduced from Conversations With Ayckbourn (second edition, Faber, 1988).