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Joan Littlewood (1914–2002)

Author of Oh What A Lovely War

Includes the names: Joan Littlewood

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Joan Littlewood was born in the Stockwell district of south London, and was raised by her grandmother. She attended a convent school and fell in love with theater as a child. She won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), but left in 1934 after a short, unhappy time there and moved to Manchester. There she met Jimmie Miller, a Communist and folksinger who would later become known as Ewan MacColl, and joined his troupe, Theatre of Action. She married MacColl and together they set up Theatre Union in 1936. Although she and McColl were blacklisted by the BBC during this time as subversives, by the end of World War II, they were in demand. In 1945, they formed Theatre Workshop and spent the next eight years touring the country. After they divorced, Littlewood and MacColl continued to work together for many years. In 1953, Theatre Workshop took up residence in Stratford, east London, where it gained an international reputation. Littlewood became renowned for her experimental style and direction of plays concerned with contemporary social issues. One of her most famous productions was the British premiere of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1955), in which she both directed and played the lead role. Her production of the musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, became a hit that ran from 1959 to 1962, later transferring to the West End. The works for which she is now best remembered are Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey (1958) and the satirical musical Oh, What a Lovely War! (1965), which Littlewood adapted from a radio play. Both were later made into films. She became the first woman nominated for a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for Oh, What a Lovely War! Following the death of her longtime companion Gerry Raffles in 1975, Littlewood stopped directing and went to live in France. There she became the companion of Baron Philippe de Rothschild and helped him write his autobiography Milady Vine (1984). Her own autobiography, Joan's Book, was published in 1994.
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