Miss Littlewood – RSC Stratford – review

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Miss Littlewood does her proud

(4 / 5)

Click here to watch Miss Littlewood reviewed on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Clare Burt in RSC's Miss Littlewood, Photo by Topher McGrillis
Clare Burt in RSC’s Miss Littlewood, Photo by Topher McGrillis

On the face of it Miss Littlewood at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon is a celebration of the theatrical revolutionary Joan Littlewood. Actually Sam Kenyon‘s marvellous musical is a celebration of theatre, or at least of the kind of theatre that she pioneered with shows like Oh What A Lovely War and which is now long established.

Miss Littlewood imagines Joan putting on a production of her own life story. In her now well established theatre workshop style, there is no set, only a few props and an open stage.  The storytelling is episodic. There’s a narrator in the form of Joan. It’s always clear this a play, being directed- by Joan. The actors take on many parts in a very egalitarian way.

In a touch which I’m sure Joan would have loved and which is still a little revolutionary, the casting in Erica Whyman‘s production is colour blind and gender blind. So while the story is set in a past age dominated by white men, the cast reflect today’s society: which means women play some of the male parts and black people play what were historically white people.

I suspect some won’t like it but it works, because good stage actors seize your imagination and take you beyond the literal facts of appearance, as happened in Joan’s productions.

There are some vivid characters, although we don’t get to know many of them in depth. Even Miss Littlewood herself remains enigmatic, although the narrator Joan played by the splendid Clare Burt displays charm, humour, emotion and ruthlessness (she changes the person playing herself six times).

Central to her story is the grand love affair between herself and Gerry Raffles, the man who made a lot happen on the practical level. Unfortunately there seemed little spark between them, charming as Solomon Israel’s Gerry is.

Sophia Nomvete and company in Miss Littlewood at Swan Theatre. Photo by Topher McGrillis
Sophia Nomvete and company in Miss Littlewood at Swan Theatre. Photo by Topher McGrillis

It’s not a full stage musical in that there is very little dancing and the musical numbers advance the plot with witty lyrics rather than moving melodies. However there is one showstopper magnificently led by Sophia Nomvete.

If you love theatre, by which I mean the whole art of theatre, you really must see Miss Littlewood.

Miss Littlewood is at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 4 August 2018. To book, click here.

Here’s Miss Littlewood reviewed on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

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