Key SJT Plays: The 1980s

This page offers a brief guide to some of the significant plays and productions staged at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round during the 1980s. Like so much of the SJT's history, it is difficult to separate Alan Ayckbourn's plays - and the impact they had particularly during the 1970s and 1980s - from the SJT. The 1980s was also a disruptive decade as, between 1986 and 1988, Alan took a sabbatical from his role as Artistic Director to become a company manager at the National Theatre. All opinions on this page are the author's own and do not reflect the views of the Stephen Joseph Theatre or Alan Ayckbourn.

Season's Greetings (1980)
Alan Ayckbourn's classic play premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in 1980 and was so successful, it was revived the following year. It has become perennially popular with professional and amateur companies ever since and is one of the most popular plays he has written.

You Should See Us Now (1981)
This marked the debut of the writer Peter Tinniswood with the Scarborough company. Peter became well known for his radio dramas featuring the character Winston Hayballs.
You Should See Us Now is probably the only play at the SJT which generated a sequel, At The End Of The Day, which the company premiered in 1983.

Way Upstream (1981)
If only for its technical achievement of flooding the theatre-in-the-round to enable the illusion of a cabin cruiser on a canal, then Alan Ayckbourn's
Way Upstream would deserve a place. But as a play which began to incorporate fantastical elements in to his work for the first time, this is a significant play in the writer's canon. Plus an example of how Alan adores theatre and what you can achieve. Anyone who has seen this with the water, rain storms and a fully-moving boat will agree!

Intimate Exchanges (1982)
Arguably the most ambitious play in the Ayckbourn play canon, this sees two actors playing 10 roles in a play which features 16 different permutations (leading to approximately 30 hours of dialogue to learn). It is about the consequence of choice but is also an actors' showcase and features some of Alan Ayckbourn's most memorable characters and scenes. It has only been performed in its entirety twice, both times at the SJT in 1982 and 2006.

Before Your Very Eyes (1983)
Before Michael Cashman became famous, firstly, on the television soap opera
EastEnders and, secondly, before a lauded political career as an MEP and passionate advocate of LGBT and human rights, Michael Cashman was an actor with the Scarborough company. During his time there, he wrote his first play Bricks 'n' Mortar which was directed by Alan Ayckbourn.

A Chorus Of Disapproval (1984)
Another Ayckbourn and an undisputed classic of 1980s British theatre which continues to be popular to this day.

Woman in Mind (1985)
Before Alan Ayckbourn left the SJT for his two-year sabbatical at the National Theatre, he wrote what is regarded as one of his defining plays.
Woman in Mind is an extraordinary tragic-comedy told subjectively through the eyes of unhappily married Susan. Her life is going through a breakdown and within the play, her grip on reality slowly begins to fade as her fantasy world and reality collide. The moment the audience realises it has been aligning with an unreliable narrator and all may not be quite as it seems is a classic Ayckbourn moment.

The Woman in Black (1987)
Quite possibly the most famous - and certainly most successful - play produced at the SJT not written by Alan Ayckbourn.
The Woman in Black began life as a low budget stocking filler in the Studio space for Christmas. Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from Susan Hill's and directed by Robin Herford with a cast of two, it epitomises just what theatre can achieve through little more than light, sound, a clever script and excellent actors. It subsequently transferred to the West End and is the second longest running play there after Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap.

Henceforward… (1987)
Another significant Ayckbourn work. The first of his speculative fiction pieces set in a dystopian Manchester where a composer struggles to create his masterpiece. It's bleak, it's funny and it's the first time Alan writes about the creative artist. It's also the first Ayckbourn play I saw and, for that, I hold it both responsible for what was to come and am forever grateful.

All My Sons (1987)
During the 1980s, the SJT had a particularly rich vein of producing known and lesser-known American plays. This was a notable production of Arthur Miller's classic play, directed by Robin Herford.

The Parasol (1988)
An unusual one this, an adaptation of Chekhov's novel
Three Years by Frank Dunai. It was sent to Alan Ayckbourn with the note, 'Dear Alan, I am turning in my grave, love Anton.' Alan's interest was piqued though given his love of Chekhov and he directed this intriguing adaptation of a lesser known Chekhov work.

Man Of The Moment (1988)
If the SJT managed to get a canal onto stage for
Way Upstream in 1981, then a swimming pool in a Mediterranean villa was no problem. Alan Ayckbourn's acclaimed delve into the media features a villain who has found fame and a forgotten hero, both brought together for a hopefully 'explosive' TV reunion. Obviously things do not go to plan and the swimming pool has a jaw-dropping moment.

The Ballroom (1988)
The writer of
The Ballroom, Peter King, had a long association with Alan Ayckbourn - he played the original Mr Whatnot - and this gentle play was directed by the Alan. The play necessitated the entire cast had to learn to ballroom dance alongside a 'five piece' orchestra consisting of the MD John Pattison and puppeted papier-mâché figures. Much loved and a great success at the time.

Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays (1988)
The first of Alan Ayckbourn's family plays and his first play where half the heroine's decisions are made by the audience. This was the first in a major new strand of Alan Ayckbourn's writing, writing for young people and families and remains a popular play to this day as Suzie enters the forbidding house of Mr Accousticus looking for her dog's lost bark.

The Revengers' Comedies (1989)
The 1980s were a slightly mad decade for Alan Ayckbourn in which he seems to be constantly pushing the boundaries of what the SJT was capable of. He celebrated his 50th birthday with this two-part, five hour play which shifts at pace between London and the countryside and features one of Alan's most hideous creations, Bruce Tick. The play was an enormous success and the notorious New York critic Frank ' the Butcher of Broadway' Rich came to see it, acclaiming the play and its vision. It did not fare so well in London but for audiences spending a Saturday in Scarborough, picnicking in the theatre grounds between performances, it was a memorable production.

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd. All opinions are the author's own.