Friday, June 16, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1985 - 1987

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: 1985 - 1987
The period of 1985 to 1987 is an unusual one for Alan Ayckbourn and the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in Scarborough.
For it was dominated by another theatre completely, namely the National Theatre and Alan's decision to take a two year sabbatical to the NT between 1986 and 1988.
An extract from a letter between Alan Ayckbourn and Peter Hall in which
Alan first expresses interest in coming to the National Theatre.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
 In 1984, following on from the success of Alan's production of A Chorus Of Disapproval at the NT, its Artistic Director Peter Hall asked Alan if he would consider taking a position as a company director at the NT for two years.
By this point Alan had been associated with Scarborough since 1957 and had been Artistic Director since 1972. It was, Alan later admitted, the only offer he would have ever even remotely considered to take a break from Scarborough.
On 3 June 1985, the Scarborough Evening News broke the news that Alan Ayckbourn was to take a sabbatical from his adopted Scarborough home, but there was no mention of where he was going other than he frequently received offers to work with other theatres; it does appear though that despite the NT not being named, it was a badly kept secret and common knowledge that was his destination.
So associated with Scarborough had the playwright become, there was a huge amount of media interest in the news alongside questions of why Alan was leaving and whether he would be returning.
Considering all that was to follow, the answer was given at the very start by his partner and personal assistant heather Stoney, who noted: "Alan is looking for a break because he is very tired, but does not want to lose touch with Scarborough in the meantime. He will still be writing plays for the Scarborough theatre."
The Stage's report on Alan Ayckbourn taking a sabbatical
from Scarborough for an as yet unnamed theatre.
Copyright: The Stage Media Company
Implict in the initial announcement was Alan was leaving for a pre-determined period and would be returning to Scarborough. The theatre's manager, Ken Boden, admitted the theatre had known about the move for some time and had been 'taken aback' but the theatre felt it was a great honour that there was so much interest in Alan.
Plans were meanwhile put in place for his sabbatical with Alan's frequent collaborator Robin Herford being named Artistic Director of the venue alongside Alan Ayckbourn; Alan would not step down from the role, but would delegate the day-to-day running of the theatre to Robin.
It was confirmed at the end of the year that not only would the NT indeed by Alan's home for the next two years but the theatre's long-standing general manager, Ken Boden, would be standing down. Ken had been involved in the running of the theatre since Stephen Joseph founded the company in Scarborough in 1955.
Alan Ayckbourn, circa 1986.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Aside from feeling a need to take a rest from Scarborough, Alan announced that the offer by the NT was too good to refuse and offered a huge challenge to him which he hoped would re-invigorate him for Scarborough. The contract included working with his own company with three productions in each of the National Theatre's auditoria including the world premiere of a new work in the Olivier. It would give Alan an exposure and challenge he had never had before.
"A myth has grown up, quite without foundation, that the Theatre In The Round's success depends on me. This myth is particularly prevalent in London where some people think that every play produced at Scarborough is written by me," said the playwright at the time.
Although he did not write a new play for Scarborough for 1986 before he left - his final premiere before the sabbatical was Woman In Mind in 1985 - he did write a new adaptation of the Aldwych farce Tons Of Money, which he would also stage at the NT, and revived his classic Time & Time Again. He did confirm there would be new plays for both 1987 (Henceforward...) and 1988 (Man Of The Moment).
Alan left Scarborough in February to begin his work at the NT and, almost immediately, the gossip began that he was not to return, despite the fact it had been plainly stated from the start that he would not stay in London.
The prime instigator behind this appears to be the then Financial Times critic Michael Coveney who wrote an article implying that the playwright was leaving the seaside resort for good.
"There have been differences of opinion with Alan Ayckbourn's home town of Scarborough and he is sinking anchor at the National Theatre and running his own company."
An article from the Northern Echo inn November 1986
denying Alan Ayckbourn was leaving Scarborough permanently.
Copyright: Newsquest Ltd.
The Scarborough theatre was quick to deny any such suggestion and rubbished claims that Alan had a rocky relationship with the town council; in fact, it had been a turbulent year for both Alan and the theatre, but no more turbulent than numerous other years between 1972 and 1986 including ones where he had publicly threatened to quit the town.
This unfounded report though did sting Alan and he quickly responded shooting down the allegation whilst also shedding a new light on his relationship with the Scarborough theatre, particularly another vicious rumour that he was personally profiting from the theatre.
For the first time it was revealed that he had never drawn a salary as Artistic Director of the theatre, had put in more than £70,000 of his own money to finance productions and that 1% of his gross box office receipts from productions of his work elsewhere went to the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. He also confirmed he would be returning in May to Scarborough to direct the world premiere of Henceforward... before retrying to the NT.
An article from the Yorkshire Post, in November 1986, in which
Alan Ayckbourn reveals his long commitment to Scarborough.
Copyright: Johnston Publishing Ltd.
Alan was then - as now - completely committed to the theatre which had made such a big impact on his life having been encouraged and inspired to write and direct by the company's founder Stephen Joseph.
To a small extent the rumours continued for several months, but it was tacitly acknowledged there was no story and the Stephen  Joseph Theatre In The Round was also thriving even without Alan running it.
Late in 1986, the playwright confirmed he would be back in six months once he had directed two final shows at the NT; his remit having been extended from three to four productions.
In 1988, Alan returned to the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, reinvigorated and re-enthused. His first production was the incredibly ambitious and classic Man Of The Moment and within two years he would be making his most ambitious plans for the theatre yet with plans to finally move the company to a permanent home.
His time in London had been a huge success, he had been lauded and won awards and his production of A View From The Bridge was acclaimed by Arthur Miller as the definitive production of his play.
He had proved a point. He had stretched his wings, met a new challenge and demonstrated to London his skills as not just playwright but also director, whilst also demonstrating the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round was not dependent on him alone and could run successfully without him.
Point proved, his began to eye his next challenge. One firmly set in Scarborough and the theatre he loved.

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