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Obituary: Jo Beddoe – ‘unsung champion of regional theatre’

Jo Beddoe

Jo Beddoe was an unsung champion of regional theatre who steered Scotland’s 7:84, Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse theatres and London’s Battersea Arts Centre through perilous times relatively unscathed.

Born in Halifax (where her father was the editor of the local newspaper), she trained as a teacher and taught English and drama in schools in Liverpool and a further education college in London before beginning her involvement with theatre. In 1977, she was appointed co-ordinator of the Factory (now Yaa Asantewaa) community arts centre in Maida Vale. There, she became a founder member of the Black Theatre Co-operative.

Various roles followed, including temporary administrator of Battersea Arts Centre, director of the Lancaster literature festival and drama officer with the Arts Council of Great Britain.

In 1982, she joined the so-called ‘Gang of Four’ – Alan Bleasdale, Willy Russell, Chris Bond and Bill Morrison – at the Liverpool Playhouse as general manager, where she oversaw the transfer of Russell’s Blood Brothers to the Lyric Theatre in 1983. 

Joining London’s Royal Court Theatre in the same position in 1984, she managed its exchange programme with Joe Papp’s Public Theater in New York, the passage of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart to the Albery Theatre in 1986 and new premises for the Young People’s Theatre Studio.

As a freelance in the late 1980s, she advised the Black Theatre Forum, coordinated Laurence Olivier’s 80th birthday celebrations for the National Theatre, managed the reopening of the Playhouse Theatre and produced Derek Walcott’s O Babylon! for Talawa Theatre Company.

In 1988 she took over the management of 7:84 theatre company and was credited with saving it from closure by encouraging new writing and persuading the Scottish Arts Council to restore its funding.

After spells leading Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Zion Arts Centre in Manchester, she joined the New York Theatre Workshop as managing director in 1997, bringing its revival of Eugene O’Neill’s More Stately Mansions, directed by Ivo van Hove, to the Edinburgh International Festival the following year.

Beddoe returned to Liverpool in 2000 as the first executive director and chief executive of the trust created to oversee the city’s Playhouse (which she duly rescued from liquidation) and Everyman theatres. She laid strong foundations by forging collaborations with Out of Joint and Birmingham Rep and in 2001 co-produced Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Eddie Braben’s Morecambe and Wise homage, The Play What I Wrote. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it transferred to the West End and Broadway.

After leaving Liverpool in 2003, she freelanced in various roles with Scottish Ballet and the Bernie Grant Centre for Performing Arts in Tottenham while also lecturing in arts management at the University of Hull.

More recently, she had trained as a counsellor and therapist specialising in bereavement and established a practice in Scarborough.

Josephine ‘Jo’ Beddoe was born on August 7, 1944 and died on February 20, aged 73.

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