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Now and Then: Joan Littlewood (1968)


Main image of Now and Then: Joan Littlewood (1968)
17 April 1968
16mm, colour, 20 mins
Production CompanyAdanac Productions
ProducersBernard Braden
 Barbara Kelly

Interviewer: Bernard Braden; interviewee: Joan Littlewood

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Sporting her trademark blue cap and puffing away on a cigarette, theatre director Joan Littlewood talks lucidly in this interview with Bernard Braden for nearly 20 minutes, without delivering a clear message; perhaps not surprising for someone as bright but as disillusioned as she was by the late 1960s. She gives the impression of a person with a constant stream of thoughts and ideas with few of them staying in her mind long enough to be given adequate form in words. In fact, form is something that she expresses a great deal of disdain for, particularly in the theatre. She describes herself as 'theatre Sinn Féin', anti-form and anti-structure, having no respect for the concept of reproducing classic works of the stage in their original form.

She sees the inadequacy of established forms as a problem for all professions, not only theatre, and feels that they can't cope with the 'explosions' she describes as happening at the time. She refers to her most recent stage production, Mrs Wilson's Diary, a satire on the home life of then prime minister Harold Wilson. It was adapted for television but was not one of her more memorable shows; her career had peaked in the late 1950s and early '60s with productions such as A Taste of Honey and Oh! What a Lovely War.

Littlewood's other, very personal, project, which largely took her attention away from her theatrical work, was the Fun Palace. She organised a dry run of it in the summer of 1968 at Tower Place in London, in the form of a festival where artists and actors set up installations and encouraged visitors to participate in theatrical activities. She alludes to the concept, talking about a mobile, bubble theatre, and it was an idea to which she devoted much of her energy. Despite getting as far as having a team of architects work on designs for the building, it came to nothing, foiled, as so many of her ideas, by the establishment. This failure, coupled with the death of her long-term partner Gerry Raffles in the mid-1970s, led to Littlewood's retirement from British theatre.

Jo Botting

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Video Clips
Complete interview (20:53)
Littlewood, Joan (1914-2002)
Now and Then (1967-68)