Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough: Major upgrade on the cards for resort’s theatre from the 1930s

Plans are being made to carry out major improvements at one of North Yorkshire’s most popular places of entertainment.

Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre is seeking planning permission to replace its heating and cooling systems and carry out interior refurbishment of its McCarthy auditorium – home to live shows and cinema screenings.

The work will improve accessibility, sustainability and customer enjoyment, it is said.

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Executive director Caroline Routh said: “We commissioned a report that identified our air-handling systems, installed when we moved into the former Odeon cinema in 1996, will reach end of life within the next three to five years.

Stephen Joseph Theatre in ScarboroughStephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough
Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough

“Replacing them will not only safeguard our operation, it will also help us towards our goal of becoming a net-zero institution and improve our long-term financial stability through reduced energy bills, supporting North Yorkshire Council in its route map to carbon negative.”

Interior refurbishment aims to significantly improve accessibility in the McCarthy auditorium, which currently has limited wheelchair access.

The proposed plans will provide access to the stage and wings, more toilets, including an accessible one, a new bar and increased seating at all levels.

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The plans will also include sympathetic redecoration of the auditorium, celebrating and enhancing the heritage of the 1930s Grade II listed building.

Ms Routh says: “These are hugely exciting plans for us. The SJT is an important cultural asset within a regenerating Scarborough and North Yorkshire.

“We’re a key contributor to the town and county’s tourism, with an annual economic impact of £4.6m.

"Our work is also a vital community resource for Scarborough. We provide year-round creative opportunities for 30,000 people and each year give around 1,000 £1 tickets to those who may otherwise be unable to afford a trip to the theatre.

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“Our community work helps young people, people with learning differences, people with physical disabilities and people within specific geographic communities.

“The entire project will take some time, as we’re very keen to keep the building open and accessible as much as possible during the work.

"Obviously, we’re at a very early stage – we’re all working hard on plans to secure the necessary funding.”

The theatre is named after Stephen Joseph (1921 to 1967) who was an English stage director and pioneer of "theatre in the round”.

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He set up a company, Studio Theatre, devoted to productions in the round.

After many difficulties in finding suitable venues in London, a chance meeting led in 1955 to his using the concert room in the Central Library at Scarborough.

Initially the company did a summer season in Scarborough and in winter toured other towns, partly with a view to finding a more permanent home for the company.

The Scarborough Theatre developed and became the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

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