A Sheer Delight for Young & Old!

TW Edinburgh .jpgTheatre Workshop in Edinburgh.

In the summer of 1949, Theatre Workshop had no permanent base and not two groats to rub together. They’d been to Edinburgh and whilst their work was appreciated, appreciation doesn’t fill yer belly, so after much deliberation, it was communally decided that they’d try their luck with a commercial venture – in a now desperate attempt to change their fortunes.

A christmas show was prepared.

Joan Littlewood turned ‘Alice In Wonderland’ into a strange and magical production – with a chessboard ballet sequence choreographed by Jean Newlove, a stunning set design by John Bury and especially written music by Ewan MacColl.

Joan Paper.jpgThe Behatted One.


Gerry Raffles booked the show into five commercial theatres in Barnsley, Llandudno, Weymouth, Leigh and Theatre Royal Stratford East.


Gerry & Bury.jpgGerry & The Bury hard at work. (Gerry Raffles & John ‘Camel’ Bury)


The publicity for ‘Alice in Wonderland’:

“A sheer delight for young and old”
It’s been suggested that anybody who brought up that show with Gerry Raffles for years afterwards, might find themselves participant in a punch-up!
Things did not go well.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ opened in Barnsley during the christmas week of 1949, playing three shows a day. The theatre was booked solid, unfortunately, audiences expected a pantomime and sat bemused for the first few minutes, until Howard Goorney came on as The Duchess, sadly the disappointed crowd thought he might have been The Dame and things got ugly as the unsettled audience were presented with the strange, beautiful & often disturbing world of Lewis Carroll.
Confused, the Barnsley crowd threw pennies onto the stage.

At first, Howard Goorney thought:

“Hello, somebody’s dropped some money”

However, the throwing of pennies is an old music hall insult and a sign for the players to get off quickly before a coin hits them between the eyes.

Another clue that the audience is not best pleased is deafening boo-ing.

This boo-ing followed the coins in Barnsley.

Well, you can’t win em all!

But every cloud has a silver lining as little did the company know that one of the venues they toured to with ‘Alice in Wonderland’ would become their home within a few years.

**It’s worth noting that some of the better shows that most have us have ever been involved with, probably couldn’t even come close to the brilliance of this mis-sold Littlewood production.


***Special thanks again to Brian Astbury for the articles which assisted in the writing of this blog.

Published by

Free For All

I find myself constantly inspired by the work & legacy of Joan Littlewood. All the best people have an MI5 file!

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