Issue 238
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Joan Littlewood has been described as the "mother of modern theatre". Ever heard of her? Us neither. But the director of Oh What a Lovely War! is the subject of a completely new piece of musical theatre, Miss Littlewood, coming to the RSC later this month. We've been learning things from the production's writer and composer, Sam Kenyon, about unlikely journeys, misogyny and Eva Perón. Oh, and how one woman ended up being played by seven actresses. AT THE SAME TIME!
Born to an unmarried, teenage mother, we meet Joan 1 (as she's actually called in the programme) in 1920s South London, the dodgy end. Aged 12, and somewhat junior to the actress taking on her early years, Joan's so disappointed by Macbeth at the Old Vic that she creates her own production of the play at school, which is an apt intro to this "extraordinary force" as Sam describes her. It took Sam eight years from buying Joan's autobiography to actually reading it, but on his second attempt in 2013 he, "fell in love with it".

Sam quickly decided that he wanted to make a musical about Joan, and that picking just one person to represent her life was unthinkable given how much Joan changed through the decades, and how dedicated she was to giving performers opportunities. The team "very deliberately" cast a mixture of ages and ethnicities to take on the role — "I buy in to the principle that if you can't see it, you can't be it", says Sam, "and having seven varied actresses allows different audience members to see themselves in different Joans."

Despite receiving a scholarship to RADA in her late teens, Joan left before graduating, ending up in Manchester (which we won't hold against her) by 1934, and in search of like-minded theatrical sorts. Joan didn't tend to work with people or cast parts based on CVs but according to Sam "if she met somebody in a pub with a nice attitude, they could find themselves taking on the leading role of Henry V the very next week". Joan encouraged young and inexperienced performers throughout her career.  

As provocative as she was political, in 1941, Joan was banned from The Beeb, for whom she'd been directing documentaries, with her dangerous, "communist views" being the reason given. Another political woman making an impact in the forties was Eva Perón. In the research for this production, Sam interviewed Hal Prince, ledge director of Evita, who worked with Joan. Long story short, Evita was nearly played by three actresses — "it was Hal's fear of dividing his audiences' affections three ways that made him hold off". No pressure managing seven then, Sam.

Without giving toooo much away, The Joans appear both chronologically and with overlap. Refusing to be pushed on his fave Joan, it's actually an interaction between multiple versions of the protagonist, in a number called "Change", where Joan's past and future selves appear as her backing vocalists, that Sam likes most. "It's such a galvanising moment — Joan's got a big decision to make, and she gets to hear from herself at different ages, standing by her, giving her courage." Plus musically, seven voices to play with is basically the dream when penning a musical. It's almost like Sam planned it that way.

Joan spent the early sixties bouncing between Paris and London, and between long-term partner Gerry Raffles, and architect Cedric Price. Convinced to return to Blighty after Gerry was in an accident, she went on to make Oh What a Lovely War!, with lead Barbara Windsor. "If you've heard anything about Joan, it's about Lovely War — even in the theatre plenty of people haven't heard about the woman who worked with everyone who was anyone in postwar British theatre." 

“We might as well ask why we know so many unremarkable men and so few remarkable women” Joan questions in the production. For Sam, 
"it’s just misogyny — that's the explanation". The eldest Joan narrates this unlikely success story throughout. Miss Littlewood is about a woman who, above all, worked to make theatre an experience to be enjoyed and accessed by everybody, so we're thinking it's probably about time we paid her legacy some attention too.
Miss Littlewood is at the Swan Theatre from June 22 to August 4. Tickets 


Sliced bread's all well and good, but if you really want to know about one of the supremeo things going on in Brum's food sphere right now, it's Opus's Source Dinners. You've missed the five-course paean to all things vegetable — dumby — but you're bang on time for a spot at an evening of props to Irish-raised, Hereford beef. Taking place Nov 9, it's £85 for five-courses, with a pre-drink, wine matches and a talking farmer from one of the herds Opus source from. The menu, created specially for the evening, will depend on the best cuts at the time but previous dishes have included marinated rump carpaccio with textures of artichoke and watercress, as well as dry rubbed smoked brisket of beef with char-grilled tiger prawns and seared scallops. Sooo all your fave things. Call 0121 200 2323 to book. More


When kings of B-ham merch, Provide, learnt that Jim Kerr was responsible for some of its favourite street art, a beautiful typography-led relationship began. Working under the title Seven 9 Signs, the leader in lettering is responsible for signage from the late lamented Cheval Blanc, to Rebel Chicken's fowl play insignia, to everything in between. Having created a poster wall at the very first Provide store, the team is now getting two new tees on the market from Jim — 'Staff T-shirt' (a uniform Jim originally designed as himself) and 'Alright Bab!' (pictured). As well as the tees, Jim's made a 40-page zine showing his work, alongside the images that inspire him. Get it here (£4.99), or the zine is yours for free when you order either of the Seven 9 Signs T-shirts (£24.99).
The full collection


Hide from the World Cup in the luxurious surrounds of the Everyman Cinema and watch a movie before the rest of the nation. From director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Marley), Whitney is out July 6, but you can see it this Sunday (June 24), popcorn included, for just a tenner. The doco includes previously unreleased recordings and footage of the total icon at various stages in her brilliant battle of a life. Even the trailer had us blubbing. Tickets


Our founder hates going to the barbers — the uncertainty of who you'll get, coupled with the inevitable small talk, plus having to pretend you like your coiffure at the end. But last week he returned to the office all plucky and pleased with his new find, Shepherds Barber, who recently opened in Piccadilly Arcade (yes the one with Faculty coffee, by New Street station). Go and see if he's called this one right, or maybe win the opportunity to do so, by joining Shepherds' mailer right here. The masters of manes are giving away 14 cuts over the next 14 days.
Venue: Jailbird,130 Colmore Row, Victoria Square, B3 3AP; website
Choice: Black risotto with prawns (£8.50) Chooser: Andrea, assistant manager

RIP Nosh & Quaff, big welcome waves to Jailbird, its steak and seafood-centred makeover, from that clever lot behind the Lasan Group. First things first, the super sleek bar is now to be found downstairs, as you enter the Colmore Rowite, with the restaurant on the first floor overlooking Vic Square. So far, so good. There's really nothing on
the menu we didn't want to order and as is customary, we bowed to the greater knowledge of Jailbird's energised and ever so welcoming assistant manager, Andrea. The hits? The perfectly seasoned, al dente risotto topped with the sort of shell-on prawns which are well-worthy of making a mess, bathed in chilli, garlic and parsley. Plus the blackened creole sea bass (£19.80) — delicate, fleshy fish which was enhanced rather than overpowered by its marinade. The gargantuan Delmonico steak (£29.50) didn't quite do it for us, coming a bit more cooked through than the medium/medium rare we were expecting. But looking at the joyous pink hunks of meat on the table next to us, we suspect this was an anomaly, and filled up on the de-lish caraway cauliflower side, drenched our steak in the brillo béarnaise, and commented almost continuously on how much we prefer Jailbird to its predecessor.
Gin In the City is coming to the city you're hoping it's coming to. July 27 to 29, get your £10 wristband right here.
12,000 sq ft of night and day ping pong is opening on Temple Row. We really like ping pong. Welcome to B-Town, Serve.
El Borracho de Oro is opening a sister restaurant later this summer. Migas is landing at a 5 Manor Road near you, if you live in Sutton Coldfield that is.

Have a paddle, and have a pint. From 12 to 14 July starting at the Grade II listed Roundhouse Birmingham. The deets

We're having a birthday party on Thursday, July 26. Save that date maybe.

"If we don't get lost, we'll never find a new route."

Joan Littlewood

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WORDS: Katy Drohan
PICTURES:  Miss Littlewood — black and white: Theatre Royal Stratford East - Creative Commons, colour: Sam Allard (C) RSC

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