Welcome back – or just welcome if you’re new to the blog! – to our continuing exploration of significant events in the history of Alan Ayckbourn’s home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
These articles were written for the SJT Circle – the newsletter for the friends of the SJT. This particular article was published in 2016 and marked the sad news that two actors who had been very significant parts of the company had died within several months of each other.
1962: Recurring Roles
In the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, there are very few examples of actors who have played the same role twice in entirely different productions.
Whilst it is obviously not uncommon for actors to reprise their roles for revivals of the same production within a few months (such as with touring productions of a previous performed production). A reprisal of a role in productions separated by years is far less common.
The first person to do this was the late actor Stanley Page, who was a staple of the Scarborough company during the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1962, Stanley had the distinction of appearing in the first production of a Harold Pinter play to be staged by the company in Scarborough with The Caretaker.
If you’ve been reading the blog, you’ll recall Pinter has a connection with the Library Theatre and made his professional directorial debut with the Scarborough company in the second ever production of The Birthday Party in 1959; that production only toured though and was never seen at The Library Theatre.
In 1962, Alan Ayckbourn directed The Caretaker with Stanley Page playing the elderly Davies. Sadly no reviews survive in archive to give an indication of how the production was received.
However, Alan Ayckbourn returned to the play in 1976 just after the company had moved to its new home at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round and, fourteen years on, Stanley reprised the role of Davies opposite Robin Herford and Bob Eaton.
Reviews for this do survive with the Northern Echo noting Stanley was “little short of magnificent” and the production “brilliantly presented”, whilst the Scarborough Evening News described Stanley’s performance as “uproariously funny” and the direction as ‘“unobscurely funny” – whatever that means!
Stanley joined the company in 1960, having moved to the UK from Australia, and would go on to appear in the world premieres of Alan Ayckbourn The Norman Conquests, Confusions, Bedroom Farce and Sisterly Feelings amongst many other productions at the Library Theatre and the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.
The only other actors who have reprised the same roles in Scarborough are Malcolm Hebden, who played Neil in Just Between Ourselves (1976 & 1996, and who noted that he was too young for the role originally and too old for the play later!) Antonia Pemberton played Great Aunt Repetitious in This Is Where We Came In (1991 and 2001), Susie Blake was in Snake In The Grass (2002 & 2008) as Miriam and Ian Hogg played Joe and Adrian McLoughlin played Ken in both the 1994 and 2008 productions of Haunting Julia; all plays written by Alan Ayckbourn.
There is also one other actor who played the same role twice in different productions with the Scarborough company, although the vast majority of theatre-goers would never know it – nor perhaps they had even seen her.
That actress was Lesley Meade, wife of Robin Herford, who sadly died in May 2016 and was a prominent member of the company throughout the 1980s.
Lesley appeared in a a number of world premieres including Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus Of Disapproval, Stephen Mallatratt’s Touch Wood & Whistle and the ambitious adaptation of Christopher Fry’s television series The Brontës Of Haworth. She also appeared in the final production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round with Alan Ayckbourn’s Just Between Ourselves.
But there’s one role that had a great effect on theatre-goers and certainly on this author – notably giving me nightmares for several months when I was 16 years old!
Lesley Meade appeared in the world premiere of Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black in 1987. She’s not credited as an actor, but can found credited beneath the ‘Light’ and ‘Sound’ credits as ‘Vision’.
A clever way to hide the fact she played the Woman In Black, the spectre who scared a good number of theatre-goers that year. It has become tradition that the actor who plays the spectre is not listed among the actors, but elsewhere within the credits so as not to spoil the surprise and perhaps make us wonder whether this was an apparition!
In 1997, when the Stephen Joseph Theatre marked the 10th anniversary of the play – which had subsequently gone onto extraordinary success across the world – Lesley once again assumed the ghostly visage as the eponymous woman of the title, scaring another generation of theatre-goers and further traumatising those of us who had only just recovered from the experience of the original production!
When in 2015, the play was revived again for the SJT’s 60th anniversary, Lesley was again present as her voice was used for the diary entries of Jennet Humfrye; to this day, Lesley’s voice can still be heard in the long-running West End production of the play.
In memory of Stanley Page and Lesley Meade and their lasting contributions to the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Article by Simon Murgatroyd and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. All images are copyright of Scarborough Theatre Trust (unless noted). Please do not reproduce either the article or images without permission of the copyright holder.
These articles were first published in the Circular – the e-publication for the SJT Circle supporters’ organisation. During these difficult times for theatres, the SJT Circle is a great way of helping to support the theatre and further details can be found here.