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Joan Littlewood: Wikis


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Joan Littlewood

Cover of Joan's Book: The Autobiography of Joan Littlewood
Born Joan Maud Littlewood
6 October 1914
Stockwell, London, England
Died 20 September 2002
London, England
Occupation Theatre director
Years active 1930-1975
Spouse(s) Ewan MacColl 1934-1950
Domestic partner(s) Gerry Raffles
Philippe de Rothschild

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

She also conceived and developed along with architect Cedric Price the Fun Palace, a experimental model of participatory social environment that, although never realized, has become an important influence in Architecture of the 20th and 21st Centuries.


Early years

Littlewood was born at Stockwell, London, England 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.


Littlewood was banned in 1941 by BBC broadcasting. 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.[2]

In 1945, after the end of World War II, Littlewood, her husband, and other Theatre Union members formed Theatre Workshop, touring for the next 8 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, Theatre Workshop took up residence at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, east London, where it gained international fame, performing international 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 starred in 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 great critical acclaim, and the satirical musical Oh, What a Lovely War! (1963), which she also wrote. 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.

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.[3]

Film of Joan Littlewood rehearsing young actors is available on the DVD of Bronco Bullfrog.

Personal life

Littlewood died, in 2002, of natural causes at the age of 87 in the London flat of Peter Rankin, her UK base for the previous 23 years.


Further reading

  • Goorney, Howard, and Ewan MacColl (1990). Agit-Prop to Theatre Workshop: Political Playscripts, 1930-50. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719022118
  • Littlewood, Joan (2003). Joan's Book: The Autobiography of Joan Littlewood. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413773183
  • MacColl, Ewan (1990). Journeyman: An Autobiography. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0283060360

External links



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