Joan Littlewood 1950s theatre giant, now a protagonist in her own life story musical.
ReviewsGate editor, Rod Dungate, previews an intriguing new RSC musical.
Joan Littlewood was some sort of tornado directing in the theatre around the 1950ss. A host of contradictions, she has an impressive legacy, not only of works, but also of style. Her stoy is amazing to read, but can it be realised in a play itself? I have no idea; but Sam Kenyon thinks it can, and can be told as a musical too. He has written the music, words and lysrics for Miss Littlewood. And he’s puruaded the RSC to give it a go.
Well done RSC; brave man, Sam Kenyon. Miss Littlewood opens at the RSC, Swan, on 22 June, 2018.
In fact a musical might be just the right form. Joan Littlewood incorporated songs into many of the plays she worked on. An avowed communist, she believed in the power of popular entertainment. She never rally achieved her dream of a people’s palace in London’s East End, but she did, without any doubt, nurture many great plays and productions.july
With her company, she restored the London Stratford East, Theatre Royal; her company’s name is rich with the spirit of her age, The Theatre Workshop. She developed a style of rehearsal based around research and improvisation, but her directing style was anything but democratic. By all accounts she was a tyrant, and her language would have made a sergeant major blush. She worked with developing writers, ripping up their plays, revealing the heart of the drama, and putting the plays back together again. Plays like Taste of Honey (Shelagh Delaney), The Hostage (Brendan Behan) and, of course Oh! What a Lovely War, developed with Charles Chilton – it had started life as a radio programme.
Actors who were part of her original company were Sheila Hancock, Harry H Corbett (starring as Richard II), Victor Spinetti, Murray Melvin and Barbara Windsor – who famously tells that they all thought she was the cleaner when she arrived.
A communist, Joan Littlewood camped out with her company as they restored the Theatre Royal, but was happy to spend the odd weekend on a friend’s yuacht or in rooms in top hotels. She wanted a peoople’s palace, but transferred her many successful plays into the London’s West End for middle-class theatre goers in posh clothes. And in her success lay, perhaps, part of her downfall. Her close-knit band of actors would transfer with the plays; she could never rebuild a company fast enough to continue the extraordinary creativity.
Sam Kenyon’s Miss Littlewood, which presents, we are told, ‘a mighty love-story at its heart’ is a fitting celebration of this towering personality’s life and work.
Miss Littlewood opens at the Swan, RSC, Stratford Upon Avon on 22nd June 2018
Tickets 01789 403493