The year is 1914 and Joan Littlewood is born to a teenage single mother in Stockwell, London. Opinionated from a young age, Joan attends the theatre and decides that she could do a better job putting on a show, and so begins Joan’s career in theatre.
We then re-join Joan in her late teens as she is developing her career. She receives a scholarship to attend RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) but is disillusioned by her experiences there and decides to quit before graduating. Joan then walks to Manchester where she meets like-minded left-wing theatricals and begins working on performances with the group. There Joan begins a relationship with fellow member of the group Jimmie Miller and falls pregnant with his child before deciding to have an abortion.
Moving forward to 1937, Joan is still in Manchester, however her relationship with Jimmie is coming to an end when he takes interest in a new member of the group Jean Newlove. Gerry Raffles then joins them and catches Joan’s eye. The left-wing company then name themselves the Theatre Union aiming to unite communities and reflect real life. As the company become increasingly radical censors crack down on the group, which ironically pushes them to become more provocative. Meanwhile, Joan and Gerry’s relationship becomes more intimate.
In 1945, Joan goes to the Arts Council with hopes of securing funding for a new play however they refuse to offer finance to her work claiming it is too much of a risk. During this period the company have no base and are constantly moving around and putting on shows in different towns, whilst Gerry is trying to find a permanent base for them. A new woman Barbara Young joins the company and Joan becomes upset when Gerry and Barbara have an affair. By 1953, Gerry has come through on his promise to find the company a permanent base in Stratford, East London. Moving on to 1958, Jimmie decides to leave the company claiming the programme has become to focused on crowd-pleasers, however many other actors and writers start becoming involved in Joan’s work.
In the early 1960s Gerry is blatantly having flings with other women and so Joan leaves him claiming she’s fallen in love with another man, architect Cedric Price, who she goes to Paris with. However, in 1963 she receives news that Gerry has been in an accident and returns home to see him. Gerry convinces Joan to return to London and continue working.
In the mid-1960s Barbara Windsor auditions for the company and Joan is immediately impressed by her, sparking the beginning of a great working relationship. There are tensions in rehearsals for Joan’s newest show when the script hasn’t been finalised but in the end the show comes together becoming the hit Oh, What a Lovely War!
Time goes by and we learn the peaks and pits of Joan’s career in the 1960s and 1970s. However, in 1975 Gerry passes away and Joan regrets not appreciating her time with him more, arguing he was the only person who came close to truly understanding her.
Jimmie Miller/Ewan MacColl
Jimmie Miller was a singer/songwriter, actor and playwright. Jimmie was married to Joan Littlewood between 1934 and 1949, together they developed the Theatre Workshop. He was famously associated with the communist party and he and Littlewood were under surveillance from the MI5 for several years. Jimmie changed his name to Ewan MacColl in 1945 and in 1953 when the Theatre Workshop moved to Stratford, Ewan left the group and began focussing more on folk music. He went on to lead a successful music career and had five children including singer Kirsty MacColl. He remained friends with Littlewood after their divorce and she became godparent to two of his children.
A British actor and founding member of Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, he also starred in programmes such as Only Fools and Horses. Howard wrote The Theatre Workshop Story an account of the company's early years, including their move to the Theatre Royal in Stratford East.
A British actor and producer. He was a member the Theatre Workshop and long-term partner of Joan Littlewood. He passed away from diabetes in 1975 at the age of 53.
A British actor of stage, screen and television. She was a member of the Theatre Workshop in Stratford East and performed in the original casts of A Taste of Honey and Oh, What a Lovely War! Avis appeared in popular television series such as Coronation Street and Rising Damp. She was also had roles in popular British New Wave cinema like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
A British actor whose big break came with his involvement with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop where he appeared in A Taste of Honey and Oh, What a Lovely War! He’s since gone on to appear in many successful films and notably worked with Ken Russell and Stanley Kubrick, as well as having a successful television career. Melvin also wrote two books: The Art of Theatre Workshop (2006) and The Theatre Royal, A History of the Building (2009).
A British dramatist and screenwriter, most famous for her debut work, A Taste of Honey which was performed and produced by the Theatre Workshop in 1958 and has gone on to be described as 'the most performed play by a post-war British female playwright.' In 1961, Shelagh co-wrote the screenplay for the film version of A Taste of Honey and won the BAFTA award for Best British Screenplay in 1962.
A British writer and novelist, Frank wrote the musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be which was produced by Joan Littlewood for the Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, with Lionel Bart writing the music for the songs. The production transferred to the West End, and Frank won the Evening Standard Drama Award for best musical in 1960.
A writer and composer of pop music and musicals. Bart was talent-spotted by Joan and so joined the Theatre Workshop. Bart wrote the music for the musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be produced by the Theatre Workshop, it was a landmark in British theatre, noted for encouraging the use of authentic Cockney accents on the London stage and bringing an end to censorship of British theatre. Lionel had considerable success both in the West End and Broadway with the hit musical Oliver! and wrote many popular songs such as the song ‘Living Doll’ sung by Cliff Richard.
An actor who famously won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role in Oh, What a Lovely War! in 1965. He had a long and successful career for example he featured in Franco Zeffirelli’s film, The Taming of the Shrew and performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
A British architect who along with Joan Littlewood developed the idea of the Fun Palace. The Fun Palace was the name of their dream to build a space where people in the community could come together to celebrate arts, science and culture. Although they never built this place it has influenced future architects and led to many 21st century Fun Palaces, these being cultural festivals in communities across the nation, which takes place in early October – when Joan’s birthday is.
A British actor, most famous for her roles in the Carry On films and as Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders. She rose to prominence in Joan’s Theatre Workshop, particularly in the musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be and Joan Littlewood’s film Sparrow’s Cant Sing. Barbara also received a Tony award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in the Broadway production of Oh, What a Lovely War! She has gone on to have a long and successful television, screen and theatre career.