A feature length documentary about Joan Littlewood – The Woman who changed British Culture
Becoming a Documentary Maker
If you’d told me a few years ago that I would be an independent documentary film maker – I’d have thrown my head back laughing, waved my arms in the air & taken off like a shot.
But that’s what happened.
The documentary part anyway!
A trilogy of documentary films became my film school thanks to the generosity of a wonderful group of people who worked in the company of Joan:
- In the Company of Joan – a documentary about the woman who changed the shape of British culture for working class actors and audiences alike
- No Time for Memoirs – a documentary about a young woman who spent 14 years in Joan’s company before setting up and running East 15 Acting School – where the philosophy was based on the practices of Joan Littlewood
- A Unique Experiment – a documentary about the creative process as undertaken at East 15 Acting School under the directorship of Maggie Walker – how it compared to the process of Joan Littlewood and how it developed through the decades
Inspired by one of her Company
It all began accidentally – after myself and my pal Ruth had searched for the woman who’d established East 15 Acting School, Maggie Bury Walker.
Maggie at East 15 Acting School
(Dancing to a track by Prince)
Maggie had spent 14 years working in the company of Joan prior to establishing East 15 with support from some of her old Theatre Workshop comrades. She spoke with great passion about her days with Theatre Workshop and it became clear that the legacy of Joan Littlewood was complex, far reaching and stretched way beyond the walls of Theatre Royal Stratford East.
So, who was Joan Littlewood?
Joan Littlewood was many diferent things to many different people.
So, when you start to actually talk to those people, it begins to dawn on you that there are many different perspectives on the same story. Therefore it becomes vitally important to look at what cannot be disputed – the work itself.
What did Joan do?
Joan Littlewood was a maverick director, who re-ordered our responses to the classics. She also created new, bold, innovative work & re-invented the nature of what actually happens in a rehearsal space.
Throughout her working life, she continually changed and adapted her methods – seeing a show as a living, breathing thing that had to shift and adapt with each performance, each new audience – she always pushed her company to explore further, to dig into the realism even more and most importantly to connect with their audience approaching every role with precision and immense humour.
She did all of this across five decades of inventive brilliance.
In Joan’s company were writers, actors, set designers & builders, choreographers, costume makers, activists, composers, educators, architechts and together they changed the face of British theatre.
And all that with no help from the British Arts authorities.
Beyond the Stage?
She continually reached out beyond the walls of her theatre into the surrounding communities and experimented with inclusion initiatives which were light years ahead of their time. Some of which are still ahead of their time by today’s standards.
The inescapable fact is that Joan’s company broke down barriers, changed perceptions and made it possible for EVERYBODY to be involved in the arts – no matter their background – if they wanted to be there she found a way to involve them.
Joan in the Angel Cafe, Angel Lane
Hidden from History
It is actually really shameful that so few people have heard of Joan Littlewood – considering that yet she was at the vanguard of theatrical change in the 20th century AND more importantly, she forever shifted the way in which working class actors and audiences alike viewed their relationship with theatre.
Fings Ain’t Wot They Us’d T’be
It has been long touted about that John Osbourne’s Look Back in Anger (1956) was the turning point in British theatre for the working class and to that I say WHAT A LOAD OF OLD COBBLERS!!
Yes, I’d agree that ‘Look Back in Anger’ was one part of a theatre movement in the late 50s and into the sixties which saw a boom in social realsim BUT Joan Littlewood was doing social realism in working class communities around the UK in the 1930’s – TWO DECADES earlier.
I truly believe that if you are working class and you are working in the arts today, you have Joan Littlewood to thank.
Her impact on British culture?
Have you ever seen people who’ve never danced before, dancing?
They become so beautiful & alive.
That’s what’s theatre is, you see?
The participants of IN THE COMPANY OF JOAN shared their memories about their friend and colleague and they did that wholeheartedly.
The resulting piece is a filmic thank you note to them all.
Young actors and actresses, don’t be puppets any longer!
The theatre should be made up of individuals – not pawns. Keep your wits. Develop your talent! Take over the theatre, which now belongs to the managers or the landlords!
Let’s stop this waste of human ability.
See this film…
In the Company of Joan, recently opened the Salford Working Class Movement Library mini film festival.
Next, it is playing as part of the wonderful Boundary Estate Fun Palace Festivities at Rich Mix Cinema, Shoreditch, on September 12th 2016 — it is a FREE event although there will be a bucket on the door in aid of the EAST END WOMEN’S MUSEUM and the Boundary Estate Fun Palace. (Eventbrite for bookings)
You can also catch it at Farnham Fun Palace in October.