In the coming months as we move towards the anniversary, the blog will be publishing occasional features about the history of the venue and its relationship with both Alan Ayckbourn and the town of Scarborough.
The first article (click here) asked why the UK's first professional theatre-in-the-round company was established in Scarborough. Here we follow that up with how did Alan Ayckbourn also end up in what is now his adopted home-town of Scarborough?
Like Stephen Joseph before him, Alan Ayckbourn had no existing ties to Scarborough before he first visited the town in 1957.
Born in Hampstead in 1939, Alan Ayckbourn had left school in 1955 to work as an actor. Following a brief stint with Sir Donald Wolfit's company at the Edinburgh Festival, Alan found himself working at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing, followed by the Thorndike Theatre in Leatherhead.
There Alan worked as an Acting Stage Manager (a stage manager with occasional acting roles) and met the stage manager Rodney Wood - who would later play an important part in the survival of the Stephen Joseph Theatre (then the Library Theatre) following Stephen Joseph's death in 1967.
|Rodney Wood & Alan Ayckbourn at the|
Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Alan had never heard of the company, but intrigued by mention of theatre-in-the-round, he agreed to accompany Rodney to see the company perform a production of Sartre's Huis Clos at the Mahatma Ghandhi Assembly Hall in Fitzroy Square, London.
Alan saw the production on either 3 February or 14 April 1957 (he does not remember which, but the company only performed the play twice in London) and it had the most profound effect on the 18 year old.
"[It] sticks out still in my mind as one of the most exciting things I'd ever seen in the theatre.... It was an absolute knockout. It was a pretty racy play, for its time, you know. And I thought, 'This is terrific.' I also liked it because it had no scenery and that meant less work."
Alan agreed to join the company and spent two weeks in London rehearsing for the summer season with Clive Goodwin directing three plays and Rodney directing another; Stephen Joseph did not actually play much part in the 1957 season and Alan would not meet him for many weeks.
Alan was predominantly a stage manager, but also had small acting roles in two productions in Priestley's An Inspector Calls and Catherine Prynne's The Ornamental Hermit.
After two weeks, the company moved up to Scarborough with Alan having no idea where it was other than the vague direction of turn right at York - leading to his first experience of the town he was to become most associated with.
"I remember I got off the train packed with holidaymakers and this bracing air and smell of chips. I said, 'Wow!' Because I was an inland child living in north Sussex, one of the great treats as a child was a trip to the seaside - so, dear reader, I bought the sweet shop. I came to the seaside and stayed. I thought, 'This can't get better'.”
Alan worked the summer season at Scarborough before taking a job at the Oxford Playhouse for the 1957 / 58 winter season. Although he enjoyed his time there and was offered the chance to stay, Stephen Joseph had contacted him about returning to Scarborough for the summer 1958 season - with the opportunity of more acting.
The rest is history, Alan returned to Scarborough in 1958 and that winter was commissioned to write his first professional play, The Square Cat, which premiered at the Library Theatre on 30 July 1959 (and whose story was reported on the blog yesterday here). Two years laters with Stephen's encouragement, he made his professional directing debut with a production of Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight.
Alan has been wedded to Scarborough ever since he arrived for the first time 57 years ago* in 1957 and considers it to have been his adopted home ever since. During this time, he has premiered 73 of his 77 plays (with the 78th to premiere in the town soon!) and directed more than 200 productions in Scarborough and between 1972 and 2009 was the Artistic Director of what is now the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
All this stemmed from a fortuitous job offer and an early glimpse of the company that was to change his life forever.
"The first question everybody asks me is 'what am I doing here?' My answer is always the same - it was a happy accident that I came here and I am happy I chose to stay. I have stayed here longer than most Scarborians, since 1957!"
You can find out more about the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre and its connections with Scarborough at the website Scarborough In The Round, a sister site to Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website and the Stephen Joseph & The Library Theatre website, where you can also learn more about Alan Ayckbourn's most influential mentor Stephen Joseph.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without the permission of the copyright holder.
* Somewhat longer than the 37 years quoted in the Yorkshire Post last week (37 years actually being how long Alan was Artistic Director of the SJT between 1972 and 2009).