Friday, February 3, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1962 - 1963

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: 1962 - 1963
It's not generally known - or acknowledged - that although Alan Ayckbourn has been associated with the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough for six decades, there is a seven year period with very little connection between the two.
Between the autumn of 1962 and the spring of 1969, Alan Ayckbourn wrote only two plays for the Scarborough venue and directed only one production. He was not resident in the town, had full-time employment elsewhere and was not actively involved in the company on a regular basis.
Which perhaps makes it even more intriguing when, after seven largely absent years, he essentially takes over the theatre he would become most associated with and ensured the legacy of its founder was firmly engrained into the company to this day.
But all this was long in the future in 1962, when Alan Ayckbourn performed in his final season as actor for the Scarborough company before moving away from the town.
The aspect of Alan Ayckbourn's connection with the Library Theatre we highlight today is not his final acting season though, but his unusual connection with the amateur companies in the town.
It is no secret that Stephen Joseph forged close links with the amateur community in Scarborough from the moment he first visited Scarborough in 1955 with the intention of setting up the UK's first professional theatre-in-the-round company in the town.
He had very little money and depended on the voluntary help of the amateur community to help with front-of-house duties and running the theatre. The first - and longest running - theatre manager of the company was Ken Boden, a keen amateur theatrical who Stephen first met in 1955 and who managed the theatre from 1955 to 1985.
Ken Boden and Alan Ayckbourn.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Stephen also encouraged the amateur companies within the town to adopt theatre-in-the-round and to use the Library Theatre space, which they did with frequency. Stephen also launched a successful In-The-Round festival at the venue which attracted companies from all over the UK and even abroad throughout the 1960s.
Such were the links between the amateur community and the Library Theatre, that the amateurs could not help but notice the early playwriting success of Alan Ayckbourn and decided to approach him about writing for them.
Thus a little known aspect of Alan Ayckbourn's playwriting career was born in which he wrote several plays for the town's amateur companies with two of them premiered at the Library Theatre, but under the auspices of Scarborough Theatre Guild rather than Stephen Joseph's Studio Theatre company.
Alan wrote at least four plays at the request of Scarborough Theatre Guild of which three were produced. The first, Double Hitch, opened at the Library Theatre in 1960, with Love Undertaken opening at St Mary's Parish House in 1961.
Ken Boden in world premiere of Double Hitch at the Library Theatre.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
His final play for the amateurs was Follow The Lover, which opened at the Library Theatre in March 1962 with Alan Ayckbourn acting opposite Ken Boden in a one act comedy about an elderly couple convinced each of the other is having an affair. To that end, they both separately hire young investigators, who are - naturally - presumed by each party to be the other's younger lover!
It marked Alan's final appearance as an actor in an amateur production, possibly because of Ken. He would later say that a third element needed to be added to the well-known theatrical quote: never act with children, animals or Ken Boden!
Detail from the first page of Alan Ayckbourn's unproduced play The Party Game.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Alan also wrote a play called The Party Game, which although historically interesting - and quite unlike anything he would write for several decades - was not even considered for production by Ken's wife Margaret Boden.
Professionally, Alan finished his acting career at the Library Theatre in 1962 with a season which included him playing the lead role in an adaptation of The Fall Of The House Of Usher, which garnered a strange review from The Guardian.
Alan Ayckbourn and his 'bold acting in Usher.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
"In spite of some bold acting by Alan Ayckbourn, as melancholic Roderick Usher, Elizabeth Bell, as his sister, and Peter King, as the city saviour, it must be said that the play substantially fails to horrify."
Define 'bold acting' and whether that's a complement or otherwise!
The Guardian's review of Usher by David Campton.
Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited
At the end of the season, big changes were afoot though. Stephen Joseph had finally realised the opportunity to create a permanent home for theatre-in-the-round at the Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent and Studio Theatre Ltd left Scarborough to make a new home in the Victoria Theatre.
Alan, alongside most of the company made the move too and he was employed as actor, director and playwright between autumn 1962 and spring 1964; essentially, second only in the company to the Artistic Director Peter Cheeseman.
It marked the end - for the moment - of his association with Scarborough which had begun in 1957. His last play at the Library Theatre had been Standing Room Only in July 1961. he would not write another for the venue until July 1965 with a play called Meet My Father.
But you might better know it as Relatively Speaking....

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