Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn in 2012 as an introduction to Paul Elsam's Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer & Provocateur.

Stephen Joseph

I have in my time given a number of interviews when I’ve often been asked to comment on and explain the reasons I took this or that choice of action, why I decided to do this rather than that.

Faced with such questions, I have generally taken the easy way out, glibly justifying my decision as being based on shrewd judgement or cool appraisal of the circumstances at that particular stage of my life.

If truth be told though, I suspect like many others that my so called ordered life has really been comprised of a series of unexpected, unplanned, unforeseen events to which I responded with snap judgements based on nothing more than instinctive gut reaction.

In the midst of all the usual being in the right place at the right time, just occasionally people stepped into my path unannounced whose help and advice I subsequently gratefully accepted.

These people I have come to think of as my ‘guardian aunts and uncles’. Although there was an element of luck in our meeting in the first place, I like to think that at least I had the youthful wit to accept the guidance of these wise interlopers into my life.

One of whom was Stephen Joseph. From our first chaotic meeting, over the next ten years we were to become close friends. His enthusiasm and vision combined with an almost scornful disrespect for the theatrical establishment, his anarchic attitude to conventional thinking, his sheer dangerousness made him an irresistible figure to this seventeen year old.

There’s something deeply exciting at that age to feel you’ve joined the forefront of a revolution. Though he remained self contradictory to the end neither a playwright (judging from the appalling bits of suggested dialogue he appended to my early scripts), nor a director (rarely in rehearsal and when he was busily involved in rebuilding the auditorium around us) and certainly never an actor (my own experience appearing alongside him in David Campton’s
Frankenstein can endorse that), he could talk lucidly and sensibly about all three, writing, directing and acting better than anyone I have ever known.

I suppose he could be best described as a teacher; but a teacher who threatened at any moment to blow up the classroom. A sentimental cynic or should that read a cynical sentimentalist. A romantic who would never allow anyone too close. A public man with a private heart. I hope that this book will capture for others a little of the charisma and magic of a man for whom I still retain great affection and eternal gratitude.

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