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

My December 2017 Theatre Picks

Scene from Nativity! The Musical
Nativity! The Musical on tour

Christmas? Humbug! But which Scrooge to choose? I’m hoping to get to one of the two fabulous-sounding Christmas Carols, either at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon adapted by David Edgar and starring Phil Davis or at the Old Vic in London with Rhys Ifans.

I have high hopes of the touring production of Nativity! The Musical, which has had some very good reviews. It’s going to be my theatrical Christmas treat during the Christmas holiday week (well, I hope it is- see my review at the end of the month).

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe at West Yorkshire Playhouse is a clever magical production well worth a trip to Narnia via Leeds.

There’s nothing like a traditional panto at Christmas so, before it’s behind you, get down to Basildon for the Towngate Theatre’s Aladdin or head to Stratford East for the Theatre Royal’s Rapunzel.

Which is the fairest Christmas production of them all?  It’s hard to see how Pinocchio at the National Theatre can fail. It’s directed by John Tiffany who directed the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, written by Dennis Kelly co-writer of Matilda, lit by Paule Constable who’s currently lighting Heisenberg and features the songs from the Disney classic animation.