We are heading into a new year after a 2017 which saw our most successful summer season in a decade, a sell-out autumn half-term show, and a Christmas show which saw audience figures increase by over 10% on the previous year. We're also delighted that, throughout the summer, over a third of our audiences were seeing a show at the venue for the first time.
The theatre is flourishing and spreading its wings under the leadership of a new team. Chief Executive Stephen Freeman and Artistic Director Paul Robinson have both been in post for just over 18 months, and are focused on new horizons for the 63-year-old theatre.
The show that opened the summer season – Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, directed by Paul Robinson – played to packed houses, getting regular standing ovations.
Later shows in the season – Alan Ayckbourn’s Taking Steps and the world premiere of A Brief History of Women, both directed by the author, Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose, directed by Lotte Wakeham, and the world premiere of Goth Weekend by Ali Taylor, directed by Paul Robinson (a co-production with Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Live Theatre) – saw the company go on tour to Newcastle, the New Vic at Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the Old Laundry Theatre at Bowness-on-Windermere. A Brief History of Women will venture further afield this spring when it features in the Brits Off Broadway showcase of new British theatre at New York’s 59E59 Theaters in May.
During the summer season, the theatre increased overall seats sold by 32% on the same period in the previous year.
The introduction of a show for younger audiences at half-term – October’s production of Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, adapted by David Wood and directed by Cheryl Govan – saw a complete sell-out, with waiting lists for every performance.
And A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol, which ran throughout December and gained four- and five-star reviews, played to more than 10% more people than the 2016 Christmas show, Pinocchio.
The theatre also welcomes in 2018 Lotte Wakeham, who guest directed last summer’s Di and Viv and Rose. She joins the team as Associate Artistic Director, thanks to funding from Arts Council England and Backstage Trust.
Lotte, who was Associate Director on the RSC’s Matilda, and has worked as Assistant/Associate Director with directors including Richard Eyre and Jeremy Sams, will be learning the skills required to be Artistic Director of a building, including attending board meetings, learning about finance and, of course, directing, in an industry which lacks female leaders.
Scarborough Theatre Trust Ltd, which runs the SJT, has a new chair: Helen Boaden was, until recently, Director of BBC Radio. Helen replaces Richard Grunwell, who stepped down after completing his statutory period in the post.
In the spring of 2017, the SJT retained its status as an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation – the 663 English organisations which they consider represent some of the best arts practice in the world – which brought with it annual core funding of £637,715 from 2018 to 2022.
Funding of £50,000 from the Backstage Trust will support writing by new and emerging playwrights, provide more showcases for new writing and help initiate talent development programmes focused on actors and directors, as well as providing funding for core development, training and staff development (including Lotte Wakeham).
And the theatre plans a bright new start to 2018 with upgrades around the building part-funded by a recent ACE grant. The SJT is closed until March for developments including improvements to the front of house areas; a new, state-of the-art environmentally friendly LED lighting system in the Round, which will lower energy bills; and various smaller projects.
The SJT’s Chief Executive, Stephen Freeman, says: “This is just the start of our plans for the next five years. We will be absolutely focused on opening up the theatre, and investing in the best possible art – bringing brilliant artists to Scarborough, supporting artists from Scarborough to be brilliant, and building strong, surprising, exciting relationships with audiences.”
Artistic Director Paul Robinson says: “There’s been a real buzz around our productions recently, with our hugely successful summer season, a sell-out half-term production of Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, and our popular production of A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol. We’re also commissioning more work from new playwrights and making the SJT a more accessible resource for artists, both locally and across the UK, to develop work and try out new ideas with us.”