Articles by Stephen JosephReturn Of Theatre In The Round
Gazette & Herald, 7 May 1959
With annotations by Paul Elsam, author of Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer And Provocateur
[Note From Paul Elsam: This piece was written under the pseudonym ‘Heath Block’. I’m not sure why; the name (also sometimes written as ‘R. Heath Block’, including as a stage name) tended to be used, if at all, to disguise Joseph’s real identity when he wrote a provocative letter. This though is a chatty, informative, hand-holding piece, aimed mainly at Scarborough locals (the tourist season was still weeks away) - many of whom would have already known, four years on from launch, that the theatre was there, and that Stephen was in charge. So why not sign the piece as Stephen Joseph?
(Number annotated comments can be found at the foot of the page).]
If you take an early turn off Westborough for the sea, you will go down the steep hill of Vernon Road.
On your left you will pass Scarborough Public Library. Here, during the summer, there is a theatre, set up in the concert room.
It is no ordinary theatre, though the plays are much what you might expect from a good repertory company and the actors you may have seen already or may yet see in other theatres or on television.
The unusual thing about this theatre is that members of the audience sit all round a central acting area. The seats are raised in comfortable rows round a small arena in the middle of the floor. This is Theatre in the Round.
There are many theatres like this in America, and a famous one in Paris, another in Milan.
[PE: Here Stephen is referring to two tiny theatres-in-the-round – the Theatre-en-Rond (an authentic fixed-seating round theatre space) in Paris, and the Teatro Sant’Erasmo in Milan - actually a transverse theatre, with seating mainly on two sides. Both are long gone. In fact I’m seeking (and currently failing to find) at least one contemporary intimate professional theatre-in-the-round in mainland Europe. Please get in touch if you know one…]
Although the Theatre in the Round in Scarborough is not a permanent set-up, it is the first professional theatre of its kind in modern England.
I say “modern” because there used to be round theatres in the middle ages for the mystery plays, though even these were probably adaptations of primitive earthworks rather than special buildings.
However, since the Studio Theatre started in Scarborough during the summer of 1955. the company has taken Theatre in the Round to many other halls in Leicester, Birmingham,
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hemel Hempstead, Harlow and London. The unusual form of staging has a number of special qualities. The audience is very close to the actors - no one being more than half a dozen paces away from the stage.
Every seat commands a full view of the acting area. This gives the actors opportunities for subtlety in speech, gesture and movement and ensures that nothing is lost on the audience.
The closeness of actors and audience - means that the audience feels the acting more strongly and the actors are more aware of the response of the audience. You will find that this makes the performances very exciting.
The Theatre in the Round is very small, seating 250 people. Obviously no one is going to make a fortune out of it!
[PE: An understatement! Even though Studio Theatre Ltd operated on very small budgets, money was a constant worry. Stephen Joseph’s Uncle Lionel was a fairly frequent source for a loan - temporary or otherwise.]
In fact, the company is helped by Scarborough Corporation, which charges only a modest rent, and by the Arts Council of Great Britain.
But being small, the theatre is ideal for staging plays that would never get a showing in one of Scarborough’s bigger theatres. Plays that should appeal to keen theatre-goers new plays by young writers, little-known foreign plays in translation - these can all he chosen for production.
Scarborough has seen new plays such as ‘Prentice Pillar by Ruth Dixon, Wuthering Heights by Jurneman Winch, and The Lunatic View by David Campton; foreign plays such as Phédre by Racine, Love And Chance by Marivaux, and Office Of Information by Tardieu; good repertory plays such as An Inspector Calls by Priestley, Dial M For Murder by Frederick Knott, and Look Back In Anger by John Osborne.
[PE: It’s worth pointing out just how astonishingly eclectic and commercially risky the company’s programme actually was. At roughly the same time Joseph wrote this article, Peter Cheeseman - not yet a Studio Theatre company member - was helping to run a repertory theatre in Derby, in the English midlands. The Derby programme, typical for a regional ‘rep’ company at this time, scheduled different (and therefore barely rehearsed) plays each week, nearly all of which were recently successful in London’s West End, and so ‘safe bets’.]
Of course, the Theatre in the Round uses no background scenery and it is at a disadvantage when it comes to spectacular shows, but these are already well looked after.
Many people like to go to shows in which there are star names. But one of the excitements of Theatre in the Round is that most of the actors are young and the audience takes part in creating the stars of tomorrow.
Perhaps more important than talent spotting, though, is the interest of seeing a small group of actors in different parts. The company changes the play each Thursday and the actors can be seen in two roles during the week.
This summer, for the fifth time, the company presents Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre. There is a talented young company performing in a group of entertaining plays-most of which are quite new.
If you have been before you will know what to expect. If you’re making your first visit, be prepared to enjoy yourself!
Annotations copyright: Paul Elsam. Please do not reproduce without permission. Transcribed by Simon Murgatroyd. This page is presented in association with Teesside University.