Prolific playwright and director Alan Ayckbourn (pictured) will next year step down as artistic director of Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, after 36 years in the job at the regional powerhouse where he has premiered more than 70 of his own plays.

The 68-year-old Ayckbourn suffered a debilitating stroke last February, returning to work after a six-month recovery period (See News, 31 Jul 2007). Though he has had to, and will continue to, cut back on his workload ahead of his retirement from the position, a statement published by SJT explains that he will remain involved with the theatre with which his name has become inextricably linked.

The statement, issued by SJT chairman Sue Trufitt after a meeting of the theatre’s board, reads: "Over the last couple of years, Alan Ayckbourn's day-to-day involvement in the running of the Stephen Joseph Theatre has been decreasing, although his directing work has continued as normal (If I Were You in 2006 and Intimate Exchanges in 2007). In the forthcoming season, he will be directing Relatively Speaking (19 July – 15 September 2007) and A Trip to Scarborough and he is planning for the 2008/09 season. This decrease in his workload will lead to the appointment of a new artistic director in the summer of 2008, to plan the 2009/10 season. Alan intends to continue to direct revivals of his plays at the theatre as well as premiering any of his new work there.”

Ayckbourn was encouraged to write by theatrical pioneer Stephen Joseph and, since 1971, has been the artistic director of the theatre, now called the Stephen Joseph Theatre, that his mentor founded in Scarborough in 1955.

One of the most prolific playwrights in British history, Ayckbourn has premiered almost all of his plays in Scarborough, though they don't usually stay there. Since his first hit, Relatively Speaking opened at the Duke of York's in London in 1967, more than 25 of Ayckbourn's plays have subsequently been produced in the West End, at the National or the RSC. These include Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, Bedroom Farce, A Small Family Business, and more recently, Things We Do for Love, House and Garden, and the Olivier Award-winning Comic Potential.

Ayckbourn's plays have been translated into 30 languages, been performed on stage and television around the world, and received numerous awards. He has also written many plays for children, including 1998's The Boy Who Fell into a Book. In 1997, he became the first playwright since Terence Rattigan to be knighted by the Queen.

- by Terri Paddock