Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre

A hugely fascinating new musical from the RSC, Miss Littlewood impresses at the Swan Theatre – might we see it London before too long?

“I’ve come about the theatre”

The last musical to come out of the RSC is a little know thing that is still kicking around somewhere, Matilda I think it’s called… So Miss Littlewood might have a little expectation carrying on its shoulders, although it is clearly a completely different kettle of fish.

In the Swan Theatre, Sam Kenyon (book, music and lyrics) tells us the story of Joan Littlewood. Or rather, given the format of the show, hands the reins over to Joan to tell her story. Clare Burt stars as an older Littlewood who acts as a narrator, a maestro, as she directs six other performers, all of whom take turns in donning the blue cap to embody this most totemic figure of British theatre. 

Book-wise, it’s a rather conventional biography. But from East End beginnings and disappointments at RADA to her realisation as a political theatremaker in the North West and her establishment of the Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, it is quite the story to tell.

And Erica Whyman’s production has huge amount of fun in telling it, using gender-, colour- and age-blind casting to cover any number of supporting characters to pop up throughout (Hal Prince, Barbara Windsor, John Gielgud to name but a few). There’s no shirking the truth either that Littlewood was a complex figure and a frustrating one (for some) to know.

Burt is excellent as ever, and Sophie Nomvete and Emily Johnstone both stand out as Avis Bunnage and Barbara Windsor, as well as their own versions of Joan. Aretha Ayeh, Sandy Foster, Amanda Hadingue and Dawn Hope play the others, all adding their own stamp in one way or another. And if Solomon Israel doesn’t quite have the same impact as the love of her life Gerry Raffles, he is only one man of course.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Topher McGrillis
Miss Littlewood is booking at the Swan Theatre until 4th August

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