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The Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round

Alan Ayckbourn, Charles McCarthy and A Brief History

Alan Ayckbourn: Dreams Can Come True

This theatre is a dream that has been with me as long as I can remember. For it was, of course, originally Stephen Joseph’s own dream; a permanent, custom built theatre for Scarborough. I remember once, when he was ill, sitting in his bedroom over a whole weekend, helping him to make a white card model of his “dream” theatre, to be built heaven knows where and Lord knows how or when; a theatre in the round (of course), an intimate, compact crucible where the essential elements of theatre – actor and audience – could be best brought to the point of spontaneous dramatic combustion. Exciting. Daring.

Years later – just before we moved to our second home in Westwood, in fact – I remember making my own white card model theatre. This time there was even a site in Vernon Road. Finally, fifteen or so years on, came the Odeon site with it, miraculously (and what only really makes things work), all the right people in the right places at the right times….
Charles McCarthy and John Downe who together formed our three handed ADMirable Partnership in order to purchase the lease. Harry Osborne (of Osborne Christmas Associates), originating architect and long time personal friend who through detailed and painstaking interrogation of every member of the Theatre staff was able to assemble an extraordinarily detailed brief. One which he then translated into the brilliant basic concept and working layout of the theatre complex as we now see it. Charles McCarthy, again, who almost single-handedly begged and bludgeoned, pleaded and wheedled, coerced and charmed whoever he met (and some he never did meet) into helping finance it all.
And finally, the Shepherd Design and Build team, architects, builders, engineers, technicians, who with such remarkable commitment and dedication turned the whole thing into a solid, tangible, triumphant reality.

Some dream, to have survived forty years. Amazing and moving, the number of people who directly or indirectly have been caught up in it, carried away with the excitement of it all. But then Stephen Joseph was some dreamer…

© Alan Ayckbourn


Charles McCarthy: Objective Achieved

Following a Scarborough Theatre Trust meeting in 1989, I became accidentally involved in a conversation when Alan Ayckbourn asked the Chief Executive of Scarborough Council, the owners of the freehold of the Odeon cinema, if he would help to arrange a meeting with The Rank Organisation, who were asking £300,000 for their lease on the Odeon Cinema, which had 44 years to run on a low rent. I asked to be kept informed. It transpired that Rank were adamant about the price, would not financially help a conversion project and that Scarborough Council could not help financially.

Excellent concept drawings had been created by architect Harry Osborne, of Osborne Christmas associates, which showed that the building could be developed into a two auditoria theatre, but it seemed there was no help available to finance the purchase of the lease.
After some thought I asked Lord Downe, who was then Vice Chairman of the Trust, to arrange a meeting with Alan at which I proposed to them that we should form a company into which Alan, John Downe and I would each deposit £50,000. I would arrange a bank loan of £50,000 and with £200,000 available, I undertook to buy the lease from Rank. This was agreed and we formed the ADMirable Partnership Ltd – ADM.

It took until June 1990 for Rank to agree our price and the lease was then purchased by ADM. Our landlords, Scarborough Council, agreed to revise the lease, to bring it up to date and provide an extended term of 99 years from February 1991, with the original low fixed rent until 2035 when the old lease would have terminated.
The ownership of the lease was assigned to a new company, Scarborough Theatre Development Trust (STDT), which was listed as a charity and I agreed to be Chairman of the new company, which would have the responsibility for raising the money and overseeing the project.

A funding appeal was launched in Scarborough and in London at the National Theatre. Scarborough Council granted us £25,000 set-up costs and agreed the planning application. With some acceptable provisions, English Heritage also agreed to the conversion of the Grade II listed cinema.
STDT negotiated a design and build contract with Paul Shepherd of the York family builders, to convert the cinema in two stages. We bought the original drawings from Harry Osborne on the “blue book” basis and he was retained as an extra pair of eyes during the work. David Fotheringham of chartered quantity surveyors Turner & Holman of York became an important part of our team, providing professional reports as the work proceeded. We were also fortunate to have the help of Bill Eastwood, a consulting engineer, ex-Professor of Engineering at Sheffield University, a highly qualified friend who, for no financial reward, sorted out a few technical problems that arose during the conversion.
During this time the efforts to reach our revised target of £5.25 million continued, but we had sufficient early pledges to start Phase I in January 1993. When Phase I was completed there was only a slight pause whilst our money-raising activities gave us the confidence to proceed with Phase II and the whole building was ready for use (if not completely finished) by 1996. The
theatre was opened in April that year by The Earl and Countess of Harewood.
Our target had been reached with major contributions from the National Lottery, The Sports & Arts Foundation and the European Union. However, £2.75 million (more than 50%) was contributed by many generous companies, trusts, foundations and a host of individuals. We will always be grateful for their excellent support.

It had seemed a long road ahead in 1989, but seven years of generosity and concentrated effort from many people have given Scarborough a theatre to be proud of. It is nationally and internationally recognised for its state of the art innovation and for its artistic output under Alan Ayckbourn, our Artistic Director.

© Charles (Mac) McCarthy CBE 2010
Chairman, Scarborough Theatre Development Trust


The Stephen Joseph Theatre 1955-1996

The Stephen Joseph Theatre was founded in Scarborough by theatrical pioneer Stephen Joseph.
Stephen, the son of actress Hermione Gingold and publisher Michael Joseph, had seen theatre-in-the-round in America and determined to bring it back to Britain. A series of events took him to the seaside town of Scarborough on the north-east coast where in 1955 he established a tiny theatre-in-the-round on the first floor of the public library.
The theatre flourished and in 1976 moved to a supposedly temporary home on the ground floor of the former Scarborough Boys’ High School, at an initial conversion cost of £40,000.
However, a permanent home proved difficult to find and it wasn’t until late 1988 with the closure of the local Odeon cinema by Rank Leisure that the theatre’s long-standing Artistic Director, Alan Ayckbourn, was able to find a suitable venue.

By October 1990, the newly formed Scarborough Theatre Development Trust had gained the lease on the classic thirties building and fund-raising began in earnest.
This time, the conversion cost £5.2 million, of which £1.4 million came from the National Lottery Arts Council of England; £500,000 from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts; £495,000 from the EC Objective 5 (b) fund; £400,000 from Alan Ayckbourn personally; £240,000 from the Chairman of the Development Trust, Charles (Mac) McCarthy, and other amounts ranging from hundreds of thousands of pounds to one pound coins dropped into a collection bucket after each performance at the old theatre and from a myriad of other fund-raising initiatives.

The new theatre, known simply as The Stephen Joseph Theatre, comprises two auditoria: the Round, a 404-seat in the round and the McCarthy, a 165-seat endstage/cinema. The building also contains a restaurant, a shop and full front-of-house and backstage facilities.
The Round boasts two important technical innovations: the stage lift, facilitating speedy set changes, and the trampoline, a Canadian invention which allows technicians particularly easy access to the lighting grid.

A specially commissioned book containing some of Adrian Gatie’s photographs of the conversion, with a commentary by Alan Ayckbourn, was published just after the opening of the theatre in 1996.

© Alan Ayckbourn

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