Pioneering Progression: Joan Littlewood and Theatre Royal Stratford East

Sculpture of Joan Littlewood

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Looking into the British Library’s Theatre Royal Stratford East and Joan Littlewood Archives

This is an online only event hosted on the British Library platform. Bookers will be sent a viewing link shortly before the event and will be able to watch at any time for 48 hours after the start time.

This event will be live captioned.

Theatre Royal Stratford East was built in 1884 in the heart of East London and has maintained an industry-leading pedigree for representing the socially diverse community that it is a part of.

From 1953 to 1979 Theatre Royal Stratford East was home to Joan Littlewood’s legendary Theatre Workshop Company, famed for their productions, Oh, What a Lovely War! and A Taste of Honey. Littlewood was renowned for her socialist principles, radical vision and unorthodox working techniques resulting in her developing innovative new approaches to producing theatre.

Theatre Royal Stratford East boasts an impressive roster of previous artists and collaborators including Meera Syal, Barbara Windsor, Don Warrington, Sheila Hancock, Indhu Rubasingham, Tanika Gupta, Roy Williams, Clint Dyer, Cynthia Erivo and Sir Lenny Henry.

Since Littlewood’s tenure, the theatre has been home to a glittering array of talent at the helm, bringing with them the progressive, inclusive values that came before. From 1979 – 2004, Phillip Hedley CBE enjoyed a successful career as artistic director of Stratford East and his successor, Kerry Michael MBE who lucratively steered the ship until 2017.

In 2021, the British Library acquired the archive of both Joan Littlewood and her company, Theatre Workshop. Donated on behalf of Theatre Royal Stratford East by actor and Theatre Workshop alumnus Murray Melvin, the archive consists of over 25 years worth of papers, documents, cast notes, programmes and many more fascinating artefacts that span an incredible career.

Chaired by journalist and broadcaster, Shyama Perera, this online event will bring together the past, present and future of Theatre Royal Stratford East. Actor and archivist Murray Melvin and British Library curator Eleanor Dickens will join Shyama, as they delve into the Joan Littlewood archive; present Stratford East Artistic Director, Nadia Fall will be giving insights her leadership of the theatre today, whilst carrying the baton of Joan’s legacy and a special interview with Deputy Artistic Director of the National Theatre, writer, producer and actor, Clint Dyer.

Eleanor Dickens is an archivist and Curator of Contemporary Literary Archives and Manuscripts at the British Library. She worked on both the acquisition and the cataloguing of the Joan Littlewood Archive and the Theatre Workshop Archive.

Clint Dyer was appointed Deputy Artistic Director of the National Theatre 2021, where he recently directed and co-wrote the feature film Death of England: Face to Face. He is an acclaimed Director, Writer and Actor, directing The Big Life at TSRE before bringing it to the Apollo Theatre, the first Black British musical to go the West End, and Get Up, Stand Up!, the musical celebrating the life and music of Bob Marley currently running at the Lyric Theatre.

Nadia Fall trained at Goldsmiths College, University of London (MA Directing) and on the NT Studio's Directors programme. Nadia directed The Village by April De Angelis and King Hedley II by August Wilson as her first shows as Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Stratford East. In 2020 she directed The Outside Dog by Alan Bennett for BBC One as part of London Theatre Company’s Talking Heads monologue series and NO MASKS co-written with Rebecca Lenkiewicz for Sky Arts, a one-off drama based on testimonials from key workers. Nadia wrote and directed Welcome To Iran, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of the Lockdown Theatre Festival this year. She recently directed Stratford East’s re-opening with The Sun, The Moon and The Stars by Dipo Baruwa-Etti and Shining City by Conor McPherson.

Shyama Perera is a former print and broadcast journalist. She has written novels and short stories, and freelances as a writer, critic, and commentator. She is Chair of the South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive, which collects and conserves the work of first generation British South Asian artists, writers, and performers.

Murray Melvin became a student of Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop Company in 1957 and starred in many plays including, A Taste of Honey and Oh What a Lovely War. Murray’s film credits include, The Devils, Barry Lyndon, The Boyfriend, Comrades, Phantom of the Opera and the adaptation of A Taste of Honey for which he won the Cannes de Prix for best actor at the Cannes Film Festival.

Murray was a founding member of The Actor's Centre and Chairman for four years, during which time he initiated a branch in Manchester in honour of Littlewood and Theatre Workshop. In 1990, Murray began collating an archive of Theatre Workshop’s Theatre Royal Stratford East residency. Over 32 years of his voluntary archiving, Murray has covered the theatre’s entire history. He donated this collection to The British Library in 2021.

This event is a part of our 2022 Theatre series.

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Name: Pioneering Progression: Joan Littlewood and Theatre Royal Stratford East
Where: British Library St Pancras
When: -
Price: Online Full Price: £5.00
Online Member: £5.00
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546