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Alan Ayckbourn boosts Scarborough theatre archive collection

Stephen Joseph’s sketch for a possible Scarborough theatre-in-the-round
Stephen Joseph’s sketch for a possible Scarborough theatre-in-the-round – part of the donation collection. All pics of the items by Tony Bartholomew

An important collection of items relating to theatrical giant Sir Alan Ayckbourn and the history of theatre in the round in Scarborough has been donated to the town's archive by Ayckbourn and his archivist, Simon Murgatroyd

Much of the new material will go on display at Scarborough Art Gallery from September 16. Objects include a rare original script of the writer’s first play, The Square Cat, and a 1970s portrait of Ayckbourn by artist John Bratby – recently seen in public at the gallery for the first time earlier this year, now on permanent loan.

Also in the donation is a complete collection of original actors’ manuscripts for The Norman Conquests, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. Other items relate to the founding of the theatre in the round in Scarborough by the man whose name it bears, Stephen Joseph – including his set plans for Harold Pinter’s directorial debut, The Birthday Party, which was rehearsed in Scarborough.

There are also personal items of Joseph's, including scrapbooks and letters. One item of interest to theatre historians is Joseph's plans for a "fish-and-chips theatre" – literally a theatre with a fish and chip shop attached, with patrons encouraged to take their food into the show. [Great idea, but he probably didn't think about the smell...]

Chief executive of Scarborough museums and galleries, Andrew Clay says: “The Ayckbourn gift is an important moment for us. Theatre and entertainment are a central part of Scarborough’s story. The Scarborough collection includes nearly 200 years of theatre-related objects and memorabilia, so to add this gift is a particularly joyful moment. We are enormously grateful to Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn, and to Simon Murgatroyd.”

Simon Murgatroyd, who has donated several items from his own personal collection, said: “As someone passionate about both the history of theatre in the round and Scarborough, it’s tremendous to finally have such significant pieces relating to Alan Ayckbourn and Stephen Joseph in a public collection in the town.

“Stephen’s idea for a fish and chip theatre was about democratising theatre, bringing in working-class people, competing against television – on the second plan there’s even a bar with TV for the shows to be live-streamed: both extraordinary and completely technologically unfeasible in the early 1960s! It really shows what Stephen was about in one diagram: innovation, new theatre forms and bringing people to the theatre.”

Scarborough Art Gallery is open 10am-5pm daily except Mondays and Bank Holidays. Entrance is free after buying a £3 annual pass, which also allows unlimited free entry for a year to the Rotunda Museum.

More info here


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