(Maudie) Joan Littlewood



  • (1914 - 2002) British actress and director, who pioneeredtechniques of collective creation and was one of the firstto apply the theories of Brecht in the British theater.

    Littlewood trained at RADA but found both the atmosphere andthe teaching stifling and left before completing her course. In themid-1930s she moved to Manchester and became involved with the Theatreof Action, an innovative company organized by the dramatist and folksinger Ewan McColl, who became her first husband. Following WorldWar II the Theatre of Action was reconstituted under the name of TheatreWorkshop. The company toured extensively, performing a mixedrepertoire of classic and modern drama until they found (1953) a permanenthome at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, East London.

    At the Theatre Royal the company embarked on a highly successfulseries of productions including, in 1955, the British premiere ofBrecht's Mother Courage and Her Children. In 1958 BrendanBehan's The Quare Fellow and Shelagh Delaney's ATaste of Honey were both staged to great acclaim. However, thesuccess of many of these productions often entailed a West End transferand a subsequent loss of players from the company.

    In 1961 Littlewood travelled to Nigeria and the Theatre Workshopstaged no new productions for the next two years. Upon Littlewood'sreturn in 1963 the Workshop enjoyed a major success with Oh, Whata Lovely War!, an irreverent musical collage about World War I.Again, however, the subsequent West End transfer meant a loss of playersfor Littlewood. Other successes included the satirical Mrs Wilson'sDiary (1967) and The Marie Lloyd Story (1967). Littlewood'slast Theatre Royal production was So You Want To Be in Pictures(1973). After 1975 she worked mainly in France.

    Those who worked with Littlewood remember her, usually fondly,as a chain-smoking autocrat who bullied actors into giving performancesthey considered themselves incapable of. Kenneth Tynan, for instance,recalls her:

    Bellowing instructions through a megaphone in terms thatwould shame a Fascist traffic cop.