Stratford Upon Avon
Miss Littlewood: Book, Music, Lyrics, Sam Kenyon
RSC, The Swan
Runs: 2h 45m, one interval. To Sat 4 August 2018
Review: Rod Dungate, 12 July 2018
An unusual and fascinating work, beautifully performed
San Kenuyon’s music theatre piece is tremendous, entertaining, informative, beautifully crafted and performed.
There’s a big question to be asked though – here it comes, and with my answer. Joan Littlewood was incredibly influential, but is that enough to have a show made about her? Nobody on earth would question whether or not she is worthy of a biography. What better, then, than a biography told in the medium and format that she was key in developing. So that’s reason enough. But there is meaning beyond this; Miss Littlewood explores an individual’s single-minded pursuit of a passionately half vision, of the sacrifices it entails to self and those around self.
As well as giving us snapshots of significant events in Littlewood’s life Kenyon incorporates the theatrical elements she employed – non-realism, popular forms, songs and dancing.
Kenyon creates an older Joan Littlewood who casts (and sacks) young Joans; the Joans can interact and older Joan directs them, re-runs sections. This device keeps the pace up, the dramatic tension taut. While the emphasis is on Littlewood’s ideas, her relationship with Gerry Raffles is frequently given time to breathe. The change of pace is welcome and our emotions are engaged. It is from this we feel Littlewood did not get everything she wanted – indeed did not, possibly, even know the one thing she truly wanted. We feel this in the downbeat ending – you’d be lucky to get that feeling from a prose biography.
Clare Burt gives us Joan Littlewood (as opposed to all the other Joans). Her performance is warm, engaging and energetic, woven together with an important thread of humour. Her gear-shift at the play’s end is crucial and sure-handed. Burt creates a strong relationship with Solomon Israel, bringing the preciously Littlewood-Raffles moments to the fore.
Erica Whyman directs with confidence and clarity, this is multi-layered work and we can enjoy all the layering. Tom Piper’s set is suitably sparce but effective and the action moves seamlessly along.
This is a strong company. There is an exhilarating sense of the company enjoying themselves while believing passionately in the power of the work and the power of the individual the work is about.
Full credits will follow in a few days