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Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur

Paul Elsam

DOI: 10.5040/9781472515513

ISBN: 9781472586711

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A 1967 obituary in The Times labelled Stephen Joseph 'the most successful missionary to work in the English theatre since the second world war'. This radical man brought theatre-in-the-round to Britain, provoked Ayckbourn, Pinter and verbatim theatre creator Peter Cheeseman to write and direct, and democratised theatregoing. This monograph investigates his forgotten legacy.

This monograph draws on largely unsorted archival material (including letters from Harold Pinter, J. B. Priestley, Peggy Ramsay and others), and on new interviews with figures including Sir Alan Ayckbourn, Trevor Griffiths and Sir Ben Kingsley, to demonstrate how the impact on theatre in Britain of manager, director and 'missionary' Stephen Joseph has been far greater than is currently acknowledged within traditional theatre history narratives. The text provides a detailed assessment of Joseph's work and ideas during his lifetime, and summarises his broadly-unrecognised posthumous legacy within contemporary theatre. Throughout the book Paul Elsam identifies Joseph's work and ideas, and illustrates and analyses how others have responded to them. Key incidents and events during Joseph's career are interrogated, and case studies that highlight Joseph's influence and working methods are provided.

'There are good reasons for theatre-makers, scholars and historians to read this fascinating study salvaging the achievements and hidden legacy of a pioneer and provocateur ... The publication is neither a dry chronicle nor a technical manual prescribing methods for advancing socially inclusive theatre. Rather, it is a lively synthesis of anecdotal incidents, opinions and events culled from interviews and publications astutely integrated with meticulous scholarship offering oblique insights into a wealth of unfamiliar cultural norms ... Moreover, the writing is that of a theatre historian with a keen dramaturgical sense of presenting his subject ... Elsam's publication offers a fine template for South African research scholars. More crucially, for anyone committed to practices that are culturally inclusive and transformative, transposing Joseph's ideas to the South African context offers dynamic ways of thinking about collaborative practice, the choice of stories to tell and presentation styles to adopt.' South African Theatre Journal, 27:3

'In this well-researched study, the author strives to offer 'a fresh and deep reappraisal of Joseph's work, and a thorough re-examination of his discoveries' (x)-which he does. … [Elsam's] book makes a powerful case as to the centrality of Stephen Joseph in British theatrical history and practice.' Theatre Journal