REVIEW: Miss Littlewood @Stratford-upon-Avon

Brian Butler July 11, 2018

The audience for Miss Littlewood at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre grew up like I did in the English Theatre revolution of social realism in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

MANY OF us had a working class ethic to do better than our parents had done both educationally and materially.

As a theatre creator Joan Littlewood tapped into that post-war restlessness for social change, with ground – breaking new drama that challenged the status quo and gave a voice to young playwrights and composers as never before.

Sam Kenyon’s beautifully creates that era in this new musical and his Palace of Varieties style mirrors Joan’s own production techniques.

Clare Burt as a kind of present-day Joan looking back and directing her six other selves who appear as her in various periods of her life is a marvellous and forthright narrator – leading us up to Joan’s greatest triumph – Oh What a Lovely War and beyond into oblivion.

The problem with a biographical musical about musicals and plays is not being able to use the source material, but Kenyon copies, pastiches and adds to their potency in a variety of styles that don’t make us feel robbed of the originals.

Following Joan’s Brechtian techniques, Clare Burt talks to the audience, introducing every scene, cajoles the cast regularly to get on with her story and is even banished from the stage for taking liberties with the truth. She is gutsy, wonderfully open and honest and leads an outstanding cast.

The six other Joans are all equally in our face and full of energy and spirit. As Joan readily admits, she is little known no by today’s audiences, but what this show, directed at a hell of a pace by Erica Whyman proves is that her spirit of anti-establishment revolution, honesty and integrity is what theatre should be about.

Quite what Miss L would have made of the multi-million £ RSC mounting this tribute is debatable. She fought all her life for subsidy, hated the Old Vic, the RSC, RADA and the Arts Council and all are mercilessly targeted during the show.

But what she did create was a family of actors and singers who were devoted to her, bully and tyrant though she could be.

The cast play a huge array of characters but outstanding as her long-time but regularly unfaithful partner Gerry Raffles is Solomon Isreal – he is charismatic  and is someone to look out for.

The show, running for only 6 weeks at the RSC, should surely get a further outing. To coin a phrase “Oh what a lovely show “.

Miss Littlewood runs at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon till August 4.

Brian Butler