Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Stephen Joseph Theatre retains NPO status & gains capital funding

Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre - where Alan Ayckbourn has premiered practically all his work since 1959 - has successfully retained its status as an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation for another four years.
The theatre’s Development Trust has also been offered a one-off grant by ACE for various necessary upgrades.
NPOs are the organisations which receive regular annual funding from ACE, and are seen as representing some of the best arts practice in the world. For the four financial years from 2018 to 2022, the Stephen Joseph Theatre will receive annual funding of £637,715 a year, the same amount it received each financial year from 2015 to 2018.
The one-off capital grant of £419,122 is a large part of an overall capital project of £561,000 for developments to the front of house areas, including better access via an improved passenger lift and wheelchair platform; a new, environmentally-friendly LED lighting system in the Round, which will lower the venue’s energy bills; and various smaller projects.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Chief Executive, Stephen Freeman, says: “The retention of our NPO status is brilliant news, and real recognition of our vision and of the theatre’s vital role within the communities of Scarborough and Yorkshire.
“The capital grant will enable us to enhance our customer experience enormously. The Stephen Joseph Theatre has been in its current venue for 21 years now, and we’re very aware that it needs some refurbishment. We want to provide a 21st century theatre-going experience for audiences both new and existing. Our ongoing vision will be to complement the unique period features of this building whilst looking to the future.”
Stephen added that the theatre’s Development Trust will shortly be launching a fund-raising campaign to secure the necessary match-funding for the capital project.
“We’d welcome discussions with anyone locally who has ideas or thoughts on ways to reach our target,” he said.
Richard Grunwell, chair of the Stephen Joseph Theatre board, says: “We’re absolutely delighted with today’s news. We have a wonderful summer of entertainment coming up, followed by an equally exciting 2017/18 winter season. This validation of the Stephen Joseph Theatre as a world-class organisation will enable us to create even more exciting work in 2018 and beyond.
“I’d like to thank our committed and hard-working team, our strong network of supporters, and our wonderful and loyal audiences.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

News & Listings: 26 June 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
Until 1 July: House & Garden at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury
Until 12 October (rep): Absurd Person Singular at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
13 July - 8 October: Taking Steps at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
8 - 20 August: The Divide at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival)

News Round Up:
> Casting has been announced for Alan Ayckbourn's revival of By Jeeves at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere during the autumn. Nadim Naaman will play Bertie with Bill Champion as Jeeves, they'll be joined by Jamie Baughan (Stinker Pinker), Katie Birtill (Madelaine Bassett), Howard Chadwick (Judge Watkyn Bassett), Joshua Manning (Cyrus Budge III Jnr), Oliver Maudsley (Gussie Fink-Nottle), Naomi Petersen (Stiffy Bing), Nigel Richards (Bingo Little) and Melle Stewart (Honoria Glossop). By Jeeves is running from 6 October - 4 November and further details can be found at www.oldlaundrytheatre.co.uk.
> Alan Ayckbourn's classic farce Taking Steps, directed by the playwright, can be seen in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from 13 July - 5 October and further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Alan Ayckbourn's epic two-part work The Divide can be seen at the Edinburgh International Festival from 8 - 20 August. Produced in association with the Old Vic Theatre, The Divide is an epic love story set in a dystopian future where the sexes have been divided following a catastrophic disease which has decimated the male population. The Divide will be performed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh from 8 - 20 August and early booking is advised via the festival website here.
> The blog is celebrating Alan Ayckbourns' 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout the year with an article every Friday taking a year-by-year look at his association with the company.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, June 23, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1988

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1988
Between 1986 and 1988, Alan Ayckbourn had taken a sabbatical from the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, to become a company director at the National Theatre.
It had been an enormously successful period for Alan and he returned to Scarborough revitalised and ready to move the theatre forward; the year would see him notably write and direct the incredibly ambitious Man Of The Moment - which memorably featured a swimming pool as part of the set.
Yet much of the year at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round was dominated by the fallout from an administrative conflict between the theatre manager, Ian Watson, and the publicity officer, Russ Allen.
Over the course of the year during which Ian Watson left the theatre in January and Russ Allen in December, an increasingly vitriolic spat was played out in the pages of the national media including The Stage newspaper and Private Eye.
Alan resumed work as Artistic Director of the theatre in June, slap bang in the middle of controversy as it spilled into the national eye. It was obviously not what Alan hoped the focus would be on during his triumphant return to the theatre, but it also intriguingly included the strange case of a lost play.
During the summer of 1988, Alan was scheduled to direct a new play by Peter Tinniswood called State Of The Union; Peter already had a good relationship with the theatre following the success of his plays You Should See Us Now (1981) and At The End Of The Day (1983).
State Of The Union was advertised in the summer 1988 brochure as to be directed by Alan Ayckbourn and featuring the return of a popular playwright to the theatre.

"The prolific author, playwright and radio dramatist Peter Tinniswood returns to the Stephen Joseph Theatre with a brand new comedy which re-unites the Ayckbourn / Tinniswood director / author axis which so delighted audiences in past seasons with productions of You Should See Us Now (1981) and At The End Of The Day (1983). Warwick is a man in the middle of unions. As publicity officer for a small northern seaside watering town he has arranged Hallam-on-Sands' first ever trades [sic] union conference. It is no coincidence that the President of the Union is Warwick's father-in-law. Nor is it a secret that Warwick's own union with his wife Brenda is, like Hallam-on-Sands itself, rather gracious and run down - after 15 years of marriage, two dogs and disputes over where to live. Brenda's mum and dad aren't too happy either. And then there's the two dogs..."

And that is all we know of the play. It was later withdrawn from the summer season schedule with no public announcement and there is no documentation held in archive about why it was replaced. The only clue - and the likely reason - is an interview with Alan in the Yorkshire Evening Press in which it notes the play, like Stephen Mallatratt's withdrawn play Wonderland from the previous year, was simply not ready and had to be replaced in the schedule.
But this was not before State Of The Union fed into the Watson / Allen controversy as revealed by The Stage newspaper on 16 June 1988 (click on image to enlarge).
The Stage report of problems at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In
The Round, including the State Of The Union flyers issue.
Copyright: The Stage Media Company Ltd.
The report alleges that the theatre lost £2,000 when a flyer was discovered to have revealed "the top secret burglar alarm system number linked to the police station."
Intriguingly, this flyer was a key part part of the advertising for State Of The Union - although no-one would never likely have known this to be the case.
For the promotion of State Of The Union included a campaign for the previously mentioned fake holiday resort of Hallam-On-Sands. Except nowhere on the flyer does it indicate the town is fictional nor has any connection to a forthcoming play; it's not even a clever piece of early viral marketing as there is no way to contact the theatre - the number displayed was an outgoing only line.
The flyer has not been seen since 1988 and is reprinted below for the first time then and clearly illustrates a very strange marketing campaign (click on images to enlarge). 
The State Of The Union flyer (click to enlarge)
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The Stephen Joseph Theatre Archive also contains an early mock-up of the proposed programme cover for the play; sadly the quality is very poor as it was sent via fax, which present a great problem to archives today given how quickly they fade.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
With regard to The Stage's accusations, an internal investigation by the theatre revealed: "The cost of the posters was £200 [not £2,000]. The poster did give the security number but this does not now pose a security threat as the telephone line no longer accepts incoming calls, as is usual with security lines."
A piece of correspondence held in archive from Russ Allen suggests State Of The Union was withdrawn to be produced in a future season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, but it was never produced and Peter Tinniswood's next play at the venue would be in 1991 with The Village Fete, an adaptation of his acclaimed and popular radio plays.
All this marked a strange chapter in the life of the SJT. State Of The Union is one of only six publicly announced plays from the theatre between 1955 and the present day which were not produced and the Allen / Watson controversy is the only in-house controversy to have gone public.
All this whilst Alan was looking to re-integrate himself into the theatre as he resumed the daily running of the company.
Indeed throughout all this, Alan Ayckbourn remained largely silent as he began looking to the future of the Scarborough company and the theatre prepared to celebrate his 60th birthday in 1989.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Taking Steps in rehearsal

A play widely regarded as Alan Ayckbourn’s funniest, and his one true farce, Taking Steps, joins the programme at the Stephen Joseph Theatre next month.
Laurence Pears, Russell Dixon, Antony Eden during
rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
When tongue-tied solicitor Tristram is sent along to oversee the sale of a large and crumbling house, he may have bitten off more than he can chew: hardware tycoon Roland Crabbe and scheming builder Leslie Bainbridge are not the easiest of clients. Roland’s wife Elizabeth is on the brink of leaving him with the help of her brother Mark and his shrinking-violet fiancĂ©e Kitty. Misunderstandings multiply and play out in every corner of the three-storey house.
Laura Matthews & Antony Eden during
rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
Alan Ayckbourn says: “Farce is the most difficult thing to write because it has to be a riot from beginning to end. Taking Steps is a difficult piece to handle, and I like a challenge - it requires the most delicate balance and the steadiest of hands to work.
“I think it’s one of the sillier plays I’ve written; it’s nice to be silly occasionally!”

Laurence Pears & Louise Shuttleworth during
rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
Taking Steps goes is currently in rehearsal with a cast of six: Russell Dixon, Antony Eden, Laura Matthews, Laurence Pears, Louise Shuttleworth and Leigh Symonds.
Antony Eden, Louise Shuttleworth & Leigh Symonds
during rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
The creative team comprises designer Kevin Jenkins, who has recently designed several productions with Alan at the SJT, including The Karaoke Theatre Company, Consuming Passions and No Knowing; lighting designer Jason Taylor, who has worked on many productions at the SJT.
Laura Mathews, Antony Eden, Louise Shuttleworth
& Russell Dixon during rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
Taking Steps can be seen in the Round at the SJT, in rep, from Thursday 13 July to Thursday 5 October. Tickets, priced from £10 to £25, are available from the box office on 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com.