Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur

Article excerpt

Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur

Paul Elsam

Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2013

65 [pounds sterling], hb., 224pp., 6 b/w ill.

ISBN 9781408185674

The legacy of Stephen Joseph is remarkable since his career (including four years teaching at Manchester University) barely covers the fifteen years between 1952 and his death in 1967. He left no body of famous productions, he was not a great director, he wrote no plays, and he established no lasting academy of theatre. Yet the clear testimony of those who knew and worked with him records his ability to provoke, excite and endlessly stimulate: Elsam's "provocateur" is absolutely right. His belief in theatre was at once both simple and revolutionary. The YouTube video currently promoting the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough neatly illustrates the legacy of Stephen's ideas: the common-sense approach to acting that theatre-in-the-round generates; the link between actors and audience that goes beyond the immediately theatrical and speaks of shared community; and the important relationship between the business of making new theatre and the social health of society.

Elsam's book sensitively traces Stephen's achievement from the portable Studio Theatre of the mid-1950s that performed in halls and concert rooms across London, to the established theatres in the round in Stoke-on-Trent and in Scarborough. His advocacy of the simple reality (not realism) of theatre in the round was inseparable from his belief that good theatre comes from new plays, which is a paradox for a man who had a passion for theatre history and held sessions at his house in Manchester reading melodramas and unknown plays of the eighteenth century. …

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