Friday, April 21, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1978

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: 1978
Two years after leaving its original home at the Library Theatre in Scarborough, it became obvious that the 'short-term' venue the company had moved to was to become more permanent than expected.
Acknowledging this on 1 April 1978, the Theatre In The Round At Westwood was renamed the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round to mark the company's 23 year affiliation with its late creator, Stephen Joseph.
Alan Ayckbourn & Ken Boden preparing to mount the new
sign for the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1978.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The decision to sink roots at its new home - for what would turn out to be 20 years - led to a number of changes in both the venue and the company. One of the most significant being the appointment of the company's first Musical Director, Paul Todd.
Joining the company in early 1978, Paul would work extremely closely with Alan Ayckbourn over the next decade bringing more music into productions, forming the company's first house band and encouraging an increasingly ambitious and wide visiting music programme at the theatre.
He was also pivotal in allowing Alan to increasingly explore music within his plays and for him to return to the musical genre in which he had been badly stung by his experiences with the West End mega flop Jeeves in 1975 alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Alan Ayckbourn with Paul Todd.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Alan's first foray into lyric writing with Paul came with the late night revue, Men On Women On Men, in the recently opened Studio space at the theatre. The revue featured 14 songs including Copy Type; a song which has frequently been performed by award-winning actress Janie Dee in her own revues.
The success of the piece would lead to Paul and Alan working on a further nine lunchtime and late night revues together between 1978 and 1986; a couple of which would also be revived by the pair when Alan joined the National Theatre for a two-year sabbatical from 1986 to 1988.
Men On Women On Men would also mark the first time Alan would direct his own work for television as, in 1979, BBC North recorded the piece with much of the original company. Recorded in black and white, running to just half-an-hour and screened only once - and then confined purely to the BBC North area of broadcast - it is a largely unknown and unseen piece of Ayckbourn on television.
Lavinia Bertram, Malcolm Hebden & Fiona Mathieson in
Men On Women On Men.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Even more obscure is the fact that in 1984, BBC North also recorded the Ayckbourn / Todd revue The 7 Deadly Virtues at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough. Reduced to half an hour and renamed Deadly Virtues - by virtue of not covering all seven pieces - there is no known surviving recording of this and shown just once at 10.15pm, it was seen by a very small audience.
It is in fact strange to note that Alan Ayckbourn - who has largely shunned television with just one original screenplay for the format - has directed for television three times, each time a music oriented piece with the last being a television adaptation of By Jeeves.
The success of Men On Women On Men quickly led Alan to work with Paul on his first full-length musical since Jeeves with Suburban Strains in 1980. Alan and Paul would also produce the musical Making Tracks in 1981; the use of music opening up another path for Alan's writing.
Lavinia Bertram & Robin Herford in Suburban Strains.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
“The music actually helps me as a playwright; it's given me that necessary kick beyond naturalism. You have an equivalent of the soliloquy, no need for a boring old drunk scene to make characters say what they feel. If you suddenly bring in a shaft of music from somewhere, they can actually play the subtext. Generally the English prefer to hint round the truth, which is fun and leads to a lot of comedy, but for me it's been very interesting to find this other dimension.”
Paul and Alan worked together until 1987, after which the Musical Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round became John Pattison. During this period, Alan's use of music within his plays - often cinematically with incidental themes became prominent - and he wrote Dreams From A Summer House together with John.
Alan would later go on to work extensively with the composer Denis King and, as of 2017, since his first revue with Paul Todd in 1978, Alan has written seven full-length musicals and eleven revues; it is now considered a major strand of his writing career and yet all began in the Studio at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round with the idea of a late night entertainment to keep audiences in the building.
Paul Todd (right) with the theatre band
performing in Suburban Strains.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust

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