Joan Littlewood
Date of Birth
Jan 01, 1915
Birth Place:
London, England


Nicknamed "the Mother of Modern Theater" for her immense contributions to the British stage, Joan Littlewood breathed new life into theater by introducing an unpredictability that turned the generally complacent, well-behaved world of stage performance on its head. A London native, Littlewood won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, though she would quickly drop out and relocate to Manchester to try her hand at repertory theater. Quickly tiring of that as well, Littlewood became fascinated with avant-garde theater and formed both the Theater of Action and Theater Union with playwright and future husband Jimmy Miller (born Ewan McCall). Touring as a troupe and introducing the concept of the Living Newspaper (improvisational theater based on newspaper stories) to British audiences, the Theater of Action would in 1953 find a home in Stanford East's dilapidated Theater Royal. A cutting-edge troupe that was at one point prosecuted for breaching censorship laws, the Theater of Actions' turbulent nature proved the demise of Littlewood and Miller's marriage, though the company did produce the controversial and immensely popular stage play A Taste of Honey, concerning an interracial relationship between a white woman and a black sailor. A hit on both the West End and Broadway, the play proved the origins for a film version starring Rita Tushingham. Other film adaptations of the Theater of Actions' plays include Richard Attenborough's film version of the improvised World War II satire Oh What a Lovely War. Often alternating between experimental theater and stripped-down Shakespeare, Littlewood's few film credits include her work as writer and director of the 1963 comedy-drama Sparrows Can't Sing. Littlewood found a soul mate in Theater Workshop member Gerry Raffles, and she remained close to him until his death in 1975, when she moved to France and became increasingly reclusive. In 1994, Littlewood published an autobiography entitled Joan's Book. On September 20, 2002, Joan Littlewood died of natural causes in London. She was 87. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

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