Joan, Babs & Shelagh Too
A tribute to Joan Littlewood, the unsung hero of British theatre, by Conscious Theatre
Wednesday 23 May
Conscious Theatre presents a whirlwind journey through the life of Joan Littlewood, one of the 20th century's greatest theatrical visionaries and arguably the most unsung hero of British theatre. Unquestionably brilliant, undoubtedly maverick, undeniably rude, Joan, Babs & Shelagh Too chronicles the life of a fascinating character ahead of her time.
This is a Joan show made Joan’s way. It is Joan’s life story told partially in Joan’s own words, partly through those of her most famed collaborators and a lot of text has been in-tuned through improvisation. The show explores what made Joan the idiosyncratic character that she was. Joan Babs & Shelagh Too takes the audience on a journey through the rapidly changing theatrical landscape of 20th century Britain, from Joan’s childhood in post World War One London, passing through Manchester where she formed her political ideology, to the explosion of success that was Theatre Workshop at Stratford East’s Theatre Royal in the 50’s and 60’s.
In a transformational tour de force solo performance blending biographical detail with Brechtian technique, unique writer and solo performer Gemskii questions why it is that a woman who arguably contributed as much to British theatre as Shakespeare is seldom remembered. Using cabaret, finger puppetry and music, the performance chronicles the pivotal role Littlewood played in both Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey and Oh! What a Lovely War, examining her magnetic yet infuriating personality, and turbulent relationships within Theatre Workshop.
The show marks the first collaboration between director, veteran actor and improviser Oliver Senton, and award winning writer and actor Gemskii. Following an authentically Littlewood development process including workshops exploring a range of theatrical disciplines, in depth research and copious amounts of improvisation, the production explores working class ambition and identity, a rejection of gender stereotypes, the nature of success and communist ideals controversial to the time.
Joan, Babs & Shelagh Too is a tribute to a great woman and a compelling story - the one woman who saw the real actress in Barbara Windsor (until EastEnders); who helped give birth to A Taste of Honey, The Hostage, Oh! What A Lovely War and whom Peter Brook called 'the most galvanising director in mid-20th century Britain.” Littlewood strove to make theatre accessible to the working classes, made immersive theatre long before it was cool and was one of the few British directors to work fully with ensembles from training to performance.
Gemskii herself is a marvellous master of ceremonies and evidently an exceptionally talented actress. As a one-woman show, the audience’s entire focus never has opportunity to shift away from Gemskii, yet she never wilts under pressure…. A fantastic central performance.
Broadway BabyThis event is part of 'I'll Say It Again! A season of work by women artists'. This is a month-long festival of events including theatre, music, poetry and dance, celebrating the centenary of women's suffrage in the UK.