Which way now?
There was nothing sinister in this – it was just time to go. But there is a feeling of ‘blank canvas’ opportunity that is not lost on incoming artistic director Paul Robinson, Chris Monks’ replacement.
Not that this ‘new broom’ intends to sweep away all before him. A week into the job and he has pitched in to rehearsals of The National Joke – Torben Betts’ new play which has opened what is now known as the Summer Festival at the Stephen Joseph.
He has also sat in on readings of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s next new play The Karaoke Theatre Company. “I am enjoying celebrating the summer festival,” says Robinson. “I want to grab this with both hands and not sit back and think ‘I start next year’.”
It is a time for stability after the exit of executive director Stephen Wood and chief executive Mathew Russell, whose replacement Stephen Freeman arrives in a few months’ time.
“There has been a lot of upheaval here, the team are incredible. To have pulled together so brilliantly and come up with such an incredible programme is testament to how passionate they are at keeping brilliant work at the heart of what we do, no matter what is happening.”
It is also, says Robinson, a time to listen to audiences’ likes and needs and to contemplate next season. Diversity, giving the audience a good time and new writing will be at the heart of a Paul Robinson programme – and the chance to direct a musical for only the second time.
His passions are theatre-in-the-round and new writing – both causes championed by Alan Ayckbourn who was artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre until 2007. He still premieres his plays at the venue.
Robinson is a fan and that Ayckbourn is still involved in the theatre is a bonus for him. His first impression of the Stephen Joseph Theatre will be forever skewed. As a trainee director he arrived at the Stephen Joseph expecting to be shown round by an assistant director.
“Alan came bounding down the stairs and preceded to spend his entire lunchtime showing me his theatre,” he says. “He must have been 20 years in to the job but he showed me round with the same excitement of someone who had been doing it a week.” He invited Robinson to sit in on rehearsals for a short time – he stayed the rest of the day.
Robinson championed new work at his last job – Theatre503 in Battersea where his work attracted acclaim and awards.
There is little doubt the Stephen Joseph Theatre is in good hands.
“There is something unique and special about this place,” he says. “For me, it is a wonderful opportunity. This place believes in giving emerging writers a chance to shine. Alan knows new writers are the bread and butter of theatre and that theatre needs to keep re-inventing itself. That he is still re-inventing form – and his latest play is extraordinarily innovative – the gauntlet has been thrown down to other emerging artists.
“Theatre in the round allows writers to do something different – I can’t direct in the same way in theatre in the round, neither can they write in the same way.”
One of Robinson’s first jobs is directing the Christmas show Pinocchio – exciting because it means for the first time his six-year-old son will be able to see a show he has directed.