The Architect: Harry Osborne

The Stephen Joseph Theatre marked the first time the theatre in the round company had a specifically designed and built performance venue. Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre (1955 - 1976) had been put together in an unsatisfactory space with what finances and material was available. The Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round (1976 - 1995) was conceived as a temporary home for three years and so adapted a former school building into a theatre on a minimum budget with many constraints; improvements and alterations added only as the company extended its stay long past what was originally intended.

But the
Stephen Joseph Theatre was purpose-built and designed as a theatre. It took the town's former Odeon cinema and completely re-conceived it in a £5.2m conversion which dramatically altered the interior structure of the building to accommodate a state of the art theatre in the round and supporting facilities.

The man responsible for this was Harry Osborne, a friend of
Alan Ayckbourn and a visionary architect who realised both Alan Ayckbourn and Stephen Joseph's dreams for a permanent home for theatre in the round in Scarborough. Harry died in 2022 and Alan wrote the following tribute to the man who designed the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
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Harry Osborne (1932 - 2022)

by Alan Ayckbourn

There have been three Theatres in the Round in Scarborough. The first established back in the 1950s was a temporary affair put together by the founder, Stephen Joseph, literally with his bare hands. An all portable, all collapsible, theatre intended to stand for a few brief summer months then stack away again in a lorry over the winter.

Twenty years later came the second theatre, this time more permanently intended for year-round use utilising the ground floor of an abandoned Grammar School. Better but still far from ideal.

Then in the 1990s came the third project, far more ambitious, involving the conversion this time of an entire building, a 2,000 seat 1930s Odeon cinema into not one but two theatres - a 400 seat theatre in the round and a smaller end stage one with a capacity of just under 200. A massive undertaking, requiring imagination and ingenuity.

At this stage enter Harry Osborne with whom I had long had the understanding that, were such a project to arise, he would be the first person I called upon. Harry accepted the brief and consummate architect that he was, he listened. Not just to me but to everyone involved; over the weeks some 20 or 30 people in all from al departments, actors, technicians, stage managers, designers, front of house workers, the list was endless.

Miraculously Harry was able not only to accommodate and satisfy all these voices but also to add several unique, major contributions of his own, including a vital atrium to provide light for this otherwise windowless cinematic box and a thoroughly modern round theatre space complete with state-of-the-art lighting grid and huge stage lift.

All this modernity whilst retaining the original 1930s feel of the existing building in the smaller space, particularly front of house, restoring the original first floor restaurant space.

Working within a strictly restricted budget, it was truly a remarkable achievement. Without Harry there would be no Stephen Joseph Theatre. Indeed I would go further and say without his vision, that whole 50 year dream would never have been realised. The travelling players would probably have packed their tents and moved on.

Alan Ayckbourn
September 2022

The Archive Corridor

In 2022, to mark the death of Harry Osborne, the Stephen Joseph Theatre's Archivist - Simon Murgatroyd - dedicated the Archive Corridor Gallery to Harry Osborne.* It had long been the hope of Alan Ayckbourn and the building's original and long-standing executive director, Stephen Wood, that Harry's immense contribution to the theatre would be recognised.

This is the tribute written for the Archive Corridor on the first floor of the theatre, just off from the foyer.

The Archive Corridor Gallery is dedicated to Harry Osborne
Harry Osborne was the designer of the Stephen Joseph Theatre and was instrumental in conceptualising many of the most important design ideas within this building.

“Harry was the man I vowed I would turn to if we had the opportunity to build a new theatre. He’s very important to the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre.”
Alan Ayckbourn

Harry was an architect and a personal friend of Sir Alan Ayckbourn. For many years prior to the move to this building, the pair has discussed the idea of a new, purpose-built home for the company and what it would ideally require.

When Scarborough’s Odeon cinema closed in 1988, they saw within it the potential to be transformed into a state-of-the-art theatre, thus fulfilling a dream of not only Alan Ayckbourn, but also the company’s founder, Stephen Joseph, who had always intended the company would one day have its own purpose-designed theatre-in-the-round.

Harry began working on design concepts very early in the process, looking not only at technical innovations but, most significantly, the people who would work in the building.

“Harry spent several years before we even laid the first brick - or knocked down the first wall - in conversation not only with me but with a sizeable number of people who worked in our theatre. Wardrobe, the designers, the actors particularly, the stage managers, the master carpenter, the technicians, asking them how ideally they would like their work space to be. So we got all these essential things built into the design spec.”
Alan Ayckbourn

Harry was also responsible for the design of two of the most impressive technical achievements within the building. The stage-lift - which Alan Ayckbourn asked for in order that regular repertoire could be performed with audiences able to see a different matinee and evening show on the same day - and Harry also discovered the innovative lighting mesh above The Round, which was the first of its kind to be installed in the UK and revolutionised access to the lighting grid.

Although the theatre was built by Shepherd Design & Build, it was all based on Harry’s concept and design. His ideas were a huge influence on every aspect of its creation.

“Harry’s contribution was the concept and practically everything from the stage lift to green room, the atrium to the lighting grid. He was essential to the creation of this building.”
Alan Ayckbourn

It is safe to say that Harry Osborne should be regarded and remembered as one of the key figures in the history of theatre in the round in Scarborough and is an essential part of the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Simon Murgatroyd, 2022

* Simon Murgatroyd stepped down as Stephen Joseph Theatre Archivist in 2022 to concentrate on his predominant role as Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist and to, among many other things, create this website. Sadly, there is no guarantee the Stephen Joseph Theatre will continue to honour Alan Ayckbourn, Stephen Wood and Simon's wish to have Harry's contribution to the theatre recognised but this intention will always be preserved on this website.
Article by and copyright of Simon Murgatroyd. Images copyright of the respective copyright holder. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.