Publications by Professor Nadine Holdsworth, Professor of Theatre and Joan Littlewood’s Theatre, Cambridge: Cambridge University. Nadine Holdsworth is Professor of Theatre and Performance at the Oh What a Lovely War is often the way in with Joan Littlewood, but is it the best way?. Download Citation on ResearchGate | On Apr 1, , Kevin De Ornellas and others published nadine holdsworth. Joan Littlewood’s Theatre. }.
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Essential Drama will not compensate, whether through commissions, finders’ fees, or other means, any third party for directing a gift or a donor to Essential Drama. Her research has two distinct, but sometimes interconnected strands in Twentieth Century popular theatre practitioners and theatre and national identities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There are only a few working on the historic and academic study of Joan Littlewood: You are one of only a few voices in the academic community when it comes to Joan Littlewood. I was 17 and that sparked my interest in her. That carried on when I was at university: I was always really fascinated by her as a figure, I loved the fact that she was this incredibly feisty, maverick, free speaking, no nonsense figure.
A woman working in a male dominated period. Women really struggled to be taken seriously and she was.
She completely defied what women and femininity and women in theatre was at that time. So her as a figure. It was also about her representation of class that really got me interested. She was taking them seriously and honouring their experiences. Or that experience of those two women in A Taste Of Honeyliving on the margins of life. And the sheer theatrical vibrancy of the work. It is very easy to forget how radical and ground-breaking that was at that time.
It is criminal really. So how do holsdworth begin spreading the word? I think it is one of the best ways because Oh What A Lovely War provides a culmination of everything that has come before. You can see some of the very beginnings of her practice, that agitpropWorkers Theatre Movement style of theatre which is about a real political campaigning agenda onwards.
So there is that element to hopdsworth. There is also the elements that you find in her s work, more social-realist, I think someone referred to it as magnified social realism — A Taste of Honey style. The trench scenes, for example, where the soldiers are just living out life, bantering, chatting to each other, reading stories and playing the harmonica.
She was influenced by Piscator early in her career and his ideas about how you can put the world on stage; how can you make that connection between that theatrical world and the real world; how can you bring that documentary material into a theatre space? So, the ticker tape, the slides, the photos and the statistics are part of that. You also have the popular theatre tradition in there with the Pierrot show. Oh What A Lovely War blends and brings everything together she was experimenting with over the decades before that.
So it is a pretty good way in I think. I think it was the political convictions. So that was the galvanising force initially: Theatre offered a way of approaching it, tackling it, investigating it in holrsworth way that would also be entertaining. Theatrically, at the holdsowrth time, she is a real magpie, getting interested in the European theatre traditions. She thought no, there are these people that are doing these incredible theatrical pieces of work that she was really excited about.
So I think that initial period was about trying to marry a theatre with a political impetus and an entertaining theatricality.
But also about experimenting and how she could be a magpie and pick on all these influences she was seeing from abroad. Mainly that the theatre of her day was not how it should be.
She was very much reacting against littlewoood she was seeing in the British theatre.
As well as the influence of what she was seeing from European practitioners and seeing a theatrical vitality that was exciting for her. I think the first works from the s were quite expressionistic, with short scenes, many of them very visual. These companies would pull up and do these short sharp topical sketches. They used a visual short hand: Yeah, the Theatre Union and that worked until the beginning of the Second World War when people went off to fight and then they reformed after the war as Theatre Workshop in What was her existence during the Second World War?
Did she continue making theatre? She was making a living by doing lots of radio. So she went off to search for this guy and he offered her work at the BBC. This led to her doing quite a few documentary pieces; most famously a piece called The Classic Soil. She had a big thing about wanting to hear the authentic working class voice. How common was the documentary style that presented the authentic working class voice?
Not common at all; it was a really new thing; it was again with Ewan MacColl.
The two of them were totally in cahoots and developing things. It is worth looking up The Classic Soil. Are there examples in her theatre work naeine were influenced by the radio documentary form? Yeah, I littledood definitely that idea of presenting the authentic voice is a root of modern verbatim theatre. It was one of the plays that she did in the s in which she collaborated very closely with the writer and the script was evolving in rehearsals, which happened a lot with her work.
She took all the performers off to a building site and they had to learn how to build a wall because they had to build one in the production every night. She had this incredible replica of a building site on stage. But more important than the visual authenticity, was the focus on patterns in the voice. Joan wanted to have that very real quality of back and forth banter that happens in lots of contexts, but this building site in particular.
I think that idea of trying to document and record and authenticate the voice does have a line through to verbatim theatre today. You can see she is trying to create a truthful recreation, a very naturalistic looking environment. No but it was a major part of what she did. I think that is one of the things that is really interesting about her: She believed that holdswofth should always be organic, made in the moment.
nadine holdsworth. Joan Littlewood’s Theatre. | The Review of English Studies | Oxford Academic
The authentic voice seems to be an important debate at the moment, in the theatre and broader society. So a hypothetical question: How might Joan Littlewood respond to modern Britain in terms of creating her theatre?
She referred to the idea of the continuous loop between the theatre, the audience and the local community. So I think it would be interesting to think about what the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, has become. When Littlewood was there it was a staunchly working class environment predominantly. It is now an incredibly multi-ethnic community and the theatre has evolved to reflect that community. It is one of the most diverse audiences and I think that is because they work with that ethos of the continuous loop.
You have to go out into the community, find out about the people, who the people are, what their narratives are, what the voices are, what the stories are that they want telling. Then you go back into your theatres and you make that work, you commission it, you make it. Is there a clear difference in her work with text compared to her devised pieces? The form was always about making it work with the text, so whatever the text required was the form that was made.
Or in terms of the more improvised pieces like Oh What a Lovely War or earlier plays like John Bullion it was about the best relationship between the different elements of production. Derek Paget uses a term collision montage which I think is a really lovely way of talking about that work. She constantly reordered scenes making something like Oh What A Lovely Warto see what was going to have the most impact: Try it again here, what does that do? I know that Littlewood was very playful with her actors: So yes there is definitely the sense of her anarchic spirit driving these shifts but it is also about her ever growing knowledge of the theatre that never allowed her work to stay still.
I know that she enjoyed touring, did this inform her relationship with space? Did they always have ambitions to be in one space? They were touring when Theatre Workshop formed in and they toured until the end of The ambition was always to try and reach this working class audience that would completely get what they were doing but it never really happened. It happened sometimes, but mostly not. The decision to move to the Theatre Royal, Stratford East was really because they were poverty stricken.
They were doing one night stands left, right and centre and not able to make a living; they were living this really hand to mouth existence. He refused and as one of the founders of the company that was a big deal. She wanted to get that local working class community into that space — the continuous loop. They did a lot of work to try and achieve that: So, in terms of the space, that was the journey if you like. Did they venture out much during that time in Stratford East, back to the job centre queues?
No not until that shift back to the work at the end in the late s and early 70s and even then it was more about animating communities through fairs and fun palaces rather than political activism in the traditional sense.
There was a distinct body of work that was done around the classics including her productions of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson.