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Joan Littlewood

(1914—2002) theatre director and writer


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(1914–2002)

British theatre director, co-founder of the Theatre Workshop.

Born in London, Littlewood studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Somewhat unfashionably, but typical of her unorthodox experimental approach to drama, she began her career in Manchester, where she founded a street theatre, the Theatre of Action (1931–37), and the Theatre Union (1937–39). After World War II she returned to London as co-founder, with Gerry Raffles, of the Theatre Workshop, which moved to the Theatre Royal, Stratford, in 1953. Between 1945 and 1953 the company toured the British Isles and abroad. Among the many plays Littlewood directed at the Theatre Royal a number transferred to the West End, including The Quare Fellow (1956), A Taste of Honey (1948), and, perhaps the one with which her name became most closely associated, Oh, What A Lovely War (1963).

Littlewood has often worked abroad, her first Broadway production being in 1960. After the Theatre Workshop disbanded in 1964 she worked at the Centre Culturel in Hammamet, Tunisia (1965–67), and at Image India in Calcutta (1968). The Theatre Workshop was revived and reformed in the early 1970s but in 1975 she left England to work in France.

Littlewood's other activities have included creating the Children's Environments around the Theatre Royal (1968–75) and directing the film Sparrers Can't Sing (1962). She has also appeared on stage from time to time. She received a special Society of West End Theatre award in 1983.

Subjects: Theatre.


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