Joan Littlewood sculpture to be unveiled outside Theatre Royal

Published: 21 September 2015
Reporter: Howard Loxton

Joan Littlewood outside the Theatre Royal Credit: Stratford East

The Theatre Royal in Stratford E15 is always associated with Theatre Workshop, the radically innovative company founded by Joan Littlewood and her then husband Jimmie Miller (aka Ewan MacColl) in 1945, which made it their base in 1953.

This was the theatre where they mounted revivals of the challenging new plays and classic revivals in a style that had wide influence on future theatre. This was where she staged such plays as Behan’s The Quare Fellow and The Hostage, Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, musicals Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be and perhaps most memorably Oh What a Lovely War.

Joan was born in 6 October 1914, just as that war was reaching its end, and on Sunday 4 October, the nearest weekend to her birthday and at the end of her centenary year, a statue of her will be unveiled outside the theatre that she put on the map.

Paid for by public subscription, in a fundraising campaign led by Theatre Workshop alumni Barbara Windsor and Murray Melvin, it will be placed in Theatre Square.

The sculpture, in bronze and inspired partly by a famous photograph of the director on the very spot, was commissioned from internationally celebrated artist Philip Jackson, CVO DL MA FRBS. His other work includes memorials to Gandhi and HM Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the figure of Bobby Moore at Upton Park and the Bomber Command Memorial.

The unveiling at 11AM will be performed by 15-year-old Newham resident Alex Jarrett, who is a member of Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Young People’s Work. Also taking part in the ceremony will be Kerry Michael, Artistic Director of the theatre, Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, poet Caroline Bird, Murray Melvin and Barbara Windsor and East London Brass.

Kerry Michael sees this as a perfect way to celebrate the history of which the Theatre Royal Stratford East is so proud and says the sculpture of Joan Littlewood will be a permanent reminder of her great contribution not just to British theatre, but to world theatre.

Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham, considers it important to remember the rich history of the area, especially when it is changing at such a rapid pace. “Stratford,” he said, “ is now a world-leading residential, business and tourism destination and Theatre Royal Stratford East has played a huge role in delivering that—which is why we have always supported this project. This memorial will be a fitting tribute to an inspirational director who put Theatre Royal Stratford East on the global stage.”

The full programme of the day’s events will be:

  • 11AM: Unveiling in Theatre Square, in front of Theatre Royal Stratford East
  • 12PM: A celebratory tea party in Gerry’s Kitchen, Gerry Raffles Square
  • 2PM: A complimentary screening of Sparrows Can’t Sing( directed by Joan Littlewood) at Stratford Picturehouse
  • 5PM: A Joan Jamboree, on stage at the Theatre Royal: an eclectic entertainment and fun (and maybe some rude bits), inspired by the spirit of Joan Littlewood.

Tickets for the film are available in person from The Picturehouse box office.

Tickets for the Jamboree are on sale (£10-£22.50) at www.stratfordeast.com. It which will feature Gwyneth Herbert and her Band, East London Brass, Upbeat Choir, Ian Sullivan (socialist magician) and Rhythm of Men and proceeds will go to support the Theatre Royal’s work with young people.