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Miss Littlewood, Royal Shakespeare Company, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon - review

By Peter Rhodes | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

This new Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) musical by Sam Kenyon celebrates the life and work of theatre legend Joan Littlewood and, like the irascible old commie herself, it is good - very good - in parts.

Sophia Nomvete leads the chorus in Miss Littlewood

Some of the early scenes and songs are hesitant and drama-schoolish but as the story unfolds and the confidence grows, the chorus work is as good as anything you'll see in the West End.

In particular, Sophia Nomvete's turn as Lancashire's Avis Bunnage is a gorgeous, gutsy tour de force. Let's see more of her.

This musical is good in that it tells the truth, that Littlewood was brilliant but impossible. She could be a tyrant to her penniless actors while she lived the good life.

The show, directed by Erica Whyman, is not so good at keeping its clarity, mainly because Littlewood is played by seven different actors in succession. How are we supposed to focus on the central love story of this tale - Littlewood's obsession with Gerry Raffles, played by Solomon Israel - when Gerry keeps appearing with a different woman on his arm and in his bed?

And while it's an entertaining night out, I suspect Miss Littlewood has been written, not for Joe Public, but for actors and others in the theatre.

A press night audience, well-sprinkled with RSC performers and members, roared with laughter to hear Rada rubbished, the Arts Council described as w*****s and the National Anthem denounced as 'imperialistic cr*p'. Miss Littlewood also contains the C-word; the first time I recall it being uttered at Stratford. How very edgy.

The irony is that the RSC with its royal patronage, its board of lords and dames and its solidly white, middle-class audiences, gets about £15 million a year from the Arts Council.

Joan Littlewood would have probably denounced it as the most establishment-based drama company in the world, comrades.

* Miss Littlewood is at The Swan until August 4.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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