Friday, February 17, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1966 - 1968

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: 1966 - 1968
Between 1965 and 1970, Alan Ayckbourn was employed by the BBC and worked as a Radio Drama producer based in Leeds.
As a result of this, Alan spent very little time in Scarborough, particularly between 1965 and 1968 when he contributed just two plays to the Library Theatre: Relatively Speaking and The Sparrow.
The latter premiered in 1967 and marked Alan's most substantive involvement with the company since he had left in 1962. The Sparrow marked the first time Alan had directed one of his own plays in Scarborough and saw him return at a strange time for the Library Theatre.
John Nettles, Pamela Craig & Robert Powell in The Sparrow.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The theatre had just re-opened following a 20 month break. At the end of the 1965 summer season, the Artistic Director Stephen Joseph had announced the closure of the Library Theatre.
The company had not performed the following summer and it was only through the efforts of the theatre manager, Ken Boden, that the venue had relaunched as a professional venue in 1967.
By this point, Stephen was also terminally ill having been diagnosed with cancer and had already stepped down as chairman of Scarborough Theatre Trust - the company was soon to lose its founder.
Alan, who had a close bond with Stephen and still regards him as his most influential mentor, spent much time during the summer of 1967 with Stephen.
He also directed The Sparrow, which was a very different beast to Relatively Speaking. Alan was determined not to mine the same vein merely repeating what he had already done, so wrote a London-set suburban comedy that owed more to Harold Pinter than the high comedy of Relatively Speaking.
Robert Powell & Heather Stoney in The Sparrow.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The play performed well in Scarborough, but although his West End producer Peter Bridge did option it, it was without much enthusiasm as he was looking for the next Relatively Speaking and The Sparrow was never going to be this.
Alan has always wondered whether The Sparrow actually deserved a bit more attention - and to be fair, it has only had three weeks of life having never been performed again after its initial production at the Library Theatre.
The production was notable in another way though for its rather extraordinary cast. The male leads unknown at the time, but both destined for notable success. The first was Robert Powell, who not long after The Sparrow would be cast as the lead in the hit TV series Doomwatch - and would be propelled to international fame in the title role of Jesus of Nazareth in 1977.
“The girl's role in Relatively Speaking is the least fun to do and, probably out of guilt, I tried to remedy this by writing a wonderful vehicle for a girl in my next one. Pamela Craig was marvellous as Evie and the play was a great Scarborough success. It was John Nettles' first job, long before he became the sleuth from Jersey [referring to the British TV detective series Bergarac]. Bob Powell became a national TV star in Doomwatch about three months after he'd finished playing Tony."
Robert Powell & Alan Ayckbourn during the
late 1970s in Scarborough.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The other actor, making his professional theatre debut, was John Nettles. John is perhaps best known for his roles in the TV shows Bergarac and Midsomer Murders, but - like Robert - has also had a varied and acclaimed theatre career.
The cast also featured Pamela Craig and Heather Stoney, who 20 years later would marry the playwright, but who also holds the record as having appeared in more Ayckbourn world premieres than any other female actress.
For Alan, it was a year of mixed feelings. In March, Relatively Speaking opened in London and was greeted with the reception a playwright could only dream of. He was propelled to instant fame and the play was a genuine West End phenomenon. But then in October, Stephen Joseph died and there is no doubt this did effect Alan.
It also had a profound effect on the Library Theatre, for even though Alan was not involved in the 1968 season, the Scarborough Theatre Trust had, naturally, begun to seriously discuss the succession.
Very quickly attention began to focus on someone who had not only made his name in theatre, but would also honour Stephen Joseph's legacy and could take the company forward.
Alan was about to take his first steps running a theatre company.

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