Her research has two distinct, but sometimes interconnected strands in Twentieth Century popular theatre practitioners and theatre and national identities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. You are one of only a few voices in the academic community when it comes to Joan Littlewood. So why her? I was 17 and that sparked my interest in her. I was always really fascinated by her as a figure, I loved the fact that she was this incredibly feisty, maverick, free speaking, no nonsense figure. A woman working in a male dominated period.
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The monograph has a slightly odd structure in that there is no introduction and no conclusion. Instead, we have seven distinct, numbered chapters.
The first chapter works as a sort of potted biography of Littlewood. The remaining chapters all work as case studies not of individual plays or collaborators, but as studies of a particular type of theatrical or paratheatrical engagement. Long before Oh What a Lovely War shook London audiences, Littlewood had challenged audiences with plays that critique capitalist, martial ambition John Bullion, Slickers , the failure to learn lessons from The Great War Miracle at Verdun and the nuclear menace Uranium Littlewood believed in confrontational, dangerous, risk-taking theatre.
Oh What a Lovely War, predictably and necessarily, is analysed in depth. Rich in detail and evocative description, this account of the seminal play will become standard.
Littlewood audaciously cut vast swathes of Shakespearean text in direct opposition to the then-dominant mode of respectful, pictorial and poetic Shakespeare. Declamatory Shakespeare was traduced in favour of fast-paced narrative, where, for example, Macbeth lost his witches but became burdened with an all-too-material lust for power. Shakespeare, here, is used to force an audience to reflect on an unequal society where very ordinary men feel inspired to commit crimes to acquire privileges that other men enjoy conspicuously.
Is it possible to combine Stanislavski-like immersion in character with non-naturalistic, in-your-face staging? Are the two approaches inevitably contradictory? The former chapter is particularly valuable for the way in which it addresses the paradoxes of poetical realism. The final two chapters are innovative. Academics today will laugh ruefully at the then-common idea that people would be able to immerse themselves in the Fun Palace because technology would reduce the working day to 3 hours.
For Littlewood, play and work were complementary, akin. Recruiting young people in the troubled community of Stratford East for all sorts of marching, gardening and improvisational activities, Littlewood would lovingly bully them into recognising their ability to influence their own lives. Determined to make people think that injustice can be conquered, over-ambitious, pig-headed and slightly delusional, Littlewood never realised a fraction of her ideas.
Professor Nadine Holdsworth
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