Stephen Joseph: Obituary

The Times
6 October 1967

Mr Stephen Joseph: Tireless advocate of theatre-in-the-round
Mr. Stephen Joseph, who died on Wednesday* at the age of 46, was perhaps the most successful missionary to work in the English theatre since the Second World War.
Dedicated to experiment, the breaking down of barriers and the investigation of new relationships between actor and audience, most of his work was done in the provinces where by his advocacy of "Theatre in the Round" he was able to take plays and actors to new audiences and, at the same time, to give a hearing to the work of new dramatists.

Stephen Joseph, the son of Hermione Gingold and Michael Joseph, the publisher, was born in London in 1921. He was trained at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, where he was for a time a member of the staff. During the war he served in the Royal Navy and, after leaving the Service, studied at Cambridge. In 1948 he was appointed producer at Lowestoft Repertory Theatre and subsequently obtained a degree in drama from the University of Iowa.

On his return lo England, Joseph became increasingly concerned at the lingering death of the provincial theatre, the lack of any stage on which new writers could develop their talent and the conservatism which refused to look at any but traditional methods of production.

His answer to the situation was the creation, in 1955, of Studio Theatre Ltd., which has played continually since then at the Library Theatre, Scarborough and has ramified quite widely since then. If some of the ramifications, like the Pembroke Theatre in Croydon, were comparatively short-lived, a brief season in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1959 led to the foundation of the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. From 1955 for several years Joseph's Studio Theatre Club had monthly Sunday meetings in the Mahatma Gandhi Hall in London at which Scarborough productions were offered to London audiences. In 1962, Joseph joined the staff of the Department of Drama of Manchester University.

In spite of his enthusiastic propaganda for Theatre in the Round, Stephen Joseph was not exclusive or doctrinaire in his attitude to the theatre, and was more concerned in investigating new ideas than on stabilising those which he had already tested and proved.

Theatre architecture was a branch of his art which he found fascinating and shortly before his death he was working on designs for a "peripheral theatre” in which the action would surround players seated in the centre of the auditorium.

His belief in Theatre in the Round adds the spice of controversy to his book,
The Story Of The Playhouse In England, published in 1963, and in his Theatre in the Round, which appeared in July, he found for it a background in folk art. Still to appear, however, is his Scene Painting And Design, which he wrote partly to show that he was not exclusively attached to a single school of thought. The playwrights whose work he has nurtured - among them are David Campton, James Saunders, Alan Ayckbourn (whose comedy Relatively Speaking is now running at the Duke of York's Theatre, in London), and Peter Terson - have already done enough for the English theatre to provide him with a monument.

* This is incorrect. Stephen Joseph's death certificate states he died on Thursday 5 October.

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