Joan Littlewood

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Joan Littlewood
Joan Littlewood.jpg
Cover of Joan's Book: The autobiography of Joan Littlewood
Born Maudie Joan Littlewood
6 October 1914
Stockwell, London, England
Died 20 September 2002(2002-09-20) (aged 87)
London, England
Occupation Theatre director
Years active 1930-1975
Spouse(s) Ewan MacColl 1934-1950
Partner(s) Gerry Raffles
Philippe de Rothschild

Joan Maud Littlewood (6 October 1914 – 20 September 2002) was an English theatre director, best known for her work in developing the left-wing Theatre Workshop. She has been called "The Mother of Modern Theatre".[1]

Littlewood and her company lived and slept in the Theatre Royal while it was restored. Productions of The Alchemist and Richard II, the latter starring Harry H. Corbett in the title role, established the reputation of the company.[2]

She also conceived and developed the Fun Palace in collaboration with architect Cedric Price, an experimental model of a participatory social environment that, although never realized, has become an important influence in the architecture of the 20th and 21st centuries.[citation needed]

Early years[edit]

Littlewood was born at Stockwell, London, and trained as an actress at RADA, but left after an unhappy start and moved to Manchester in 1934, where she met folksinger Jimmie Miller, who would later become known as Ewan MacColl. After joining his troupe, Theatre of Action, Littlewood and Miller were soon married. After a brief move to London, they returned to Manchester and set up the Theatre Union in 1936.

Career[edit]

Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Royal

In 1941, Littlewood was banned from broadcasting on the BBC. The ban was lifted two years later, when MI5 said she had broken off her association with the Communist Party. She was under surveillance by MI5 from 1939 until the 1950s.[3]

In 1945, after the end of World War II, Littlewood, her husband, and other Theatre Union members formed Theatre Workshop and registered it while staying at Ormesby Hall that toured for the next eight years. Shortly afterwards, when Gerry Raffles joined the troupe, MacColl and Littlewood divorced, though they still worked together for many years and Littlewood was godmother to MacColl's two children. Littlewood and Raffles were life partners until his death in 1975.

In 1953, after an attempt to establish a permanent base in Glasgow, Theatre Workshop took up residence at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, east London, where it gained an international reputation,[2] performing plays across Europe and in the Soviet Union. One of Littlewood's most famous productions was the British première of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1955), which she directed and also played the lead role. Her production of Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, a musical about the London underworld, became a hit and ran from 1959 to 1962, transferring to the West End.

The works for which she is now best remembered are probably Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey (1958), which gained critical acclaim, and the satirical musical Oh, What a Lovely War! (1965), her stage adaptation of a work for radio by Charles Chilton. Both were subsequently made into films. Theatre Workshop also championed the work of Irish playwright Brendan Behan, and Littlewood is often rumoured to have a significant role in his work.

Later life[edit]

After Raffles's death in 1975, Littlewood left Theatre Workshop and stopped directing. After a time of drifting she settled in France and became the companion of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the vintner and poet, and wrote his memoirs, Milady Vine. In the mid-1980s, she commenced work on her 1994 autobiography, Joan's Book.[4]

Littlewood died, in 2002, of natural causes at the age of 87 in the London flat of MaColl Rankin.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Staff writers (21 September 2002). "Obituary: Theatre's defiant genius". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  2. ^ a b Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 356. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  3. ^ Richard Norton-Taylor (4 March 2008). "MI5 Surveillance of Joan Littlewood During War Led to Two-Year BBC Ban". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  4. ^ Alan Strachan (23 September 2002). "Joan Littlewood: Bold and innovative director celebrated for her work at the Theatre Royal, Stratford". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Goorney, Howard, and Ewan MacColl (1990). Agit-Prop to Theatre Workshop: Political Playscripts, 1930-50. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-2211-8
  • Littlewood, Joan (2003). Joan's Book: The Autobiography of Joan Littlewood. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77318-3
  • MacColl, Ewan (1990). Journeyman: An Autobiography. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-06036-0

External links[edit]