Articles by Stephen JosephTheatre In The Round
The Stage, 17 May 1962
I am glad that you drew attention to the fact that the Pembroke theatre in the roundis closing down shortly and that there are no plans for a theatre in London to carry on the work that has been done there. One hopes for development, and it is worth tracing the recent story of theatre in the round in this country to see how far we have gone.
Il is probably true to say that a dozen years ago very few professional theatre people had heard about theatre in the round. The general public knew virtually nothing about it. Bur even then a number of amateur groups were doing experimental work, notably the Questors Theatre under the broad-visioned Alfred Emmet, a small group in Norfolk led by Jack Mitchley, and educational groups under the direction of Peter Slade.
In 1955 I formed a small professional company for the presentation of theatre in the round during the summer season at Scarborough. This company has expanded slowly, presenting plays in London and an many theatreless towns all over the country, but using, all the time, existing halls that could only be temporarily adapted for the purpose.
Then Clement Scott-Gilbert took a lease on the Pembroke Theatre, and made a permanent, but modest (there is always a limited amount of capital for such ventures), conversion. Since then, the Pembroke, my own company. and an increasing number of amateur and educational groups have presented plays in the round. There can now he no doubt about the validity of the idea.
Many people who oppose the idea of theatre in the round do so because they imagine that there can only be one form of theatre and they do not wish to see the picture frame stage vanish. But, I believe few advocates of theatre in the round wish to abolish any theatres at all - though there is always a lunatic fringe to any movement, and even the most sober of us are driven to outrageous statements from time to time!
I believe that theatre in the round is singularly appropriate to our theatrical needs at the present, but I love the picture frame stage as I love my grandfather clock - which still keeps good time even though it is an antique.
No matter what one’s personal preference, I suggest that the theatre as a whoIe would benefit from a variety of different forms - picture frame stage, open stage, end stage and theatre in the round.
In order to catch up on the variety, it is easy to see which forms of theatre should now be built.
But apart from the validity of the idea, there is an increasing number of people who enjoy theatre in the round in a most positive way, both artists and audiences.
This number has grown so rapidly in the last dozen years that one would expect local authorities and commercial theatre people to recognise the fact. One would expect local authorities who have been considering the possibility of building a civlc theatre to choose this form of theatre. One would expect, as you suggest, that a theatre in the round should be provided in London. Why is this next step so slow in coming?
There are many reasons given by local authorities who have looked at theatre in the round for not taking action. They amount to nothing more than caution and conservatism. But one must expect caution and conservatism from even the most radical local council in such matters. In this country we are still reluctant to face the twentieth century; though technology cannot be easily ignored, art can.
If our industries are mostly a decade behind the times, our drama is half a century out of date.
Private speculators who build new theatres care little about their form (or, incidentally, about their efficiency) and they might be attracted by the comparative cheapness of theatre in the round, which even the most unintelligent critic can discern, were it not that profits seem equally likely to be modest, whatever excuse they may put forward for not building new theatres of modern design, the real reason is surely nothing but shortsightedness and greed? l wish someone would prove me wrong!
I have no doubt in my own mind that theatre in the round could contribute tremendously to the vitality of our theatre and drama. The next step is certainly a permanent theatre in the round, properly built, followed shortly afterwards by a number of such theatres.
It will be interesting to watch the story unfold during the next few years. Who will be responsible for the important decision? Who has vision and wisdom? Who loves the theatre? And has the money?
Please do not reproduce without permission. Transcribed by Simon Murgatroyd.