Pros: An intelligent, thought provoking study of a great British theatre innovator.
Cons: A disappointingly cramped venue that wasn’t best used for performance purposes.
Flip through any history of British theatre and it won’t be long before you find a reference to Joan Littlewood, director of the legendary theatre workshop at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Richard Harris, Sheila Hancock and Lionel Bart, creator of Oliver! all cut their teeth under Joan’s watchful eye. Before the performance started, a screen projected stills of other luminaries that came under her gaze, each accompanied by colourful sometimes withering assessments, showing a personality that was both magnetic and infuriating. In the space of 90 minutes, Gemskii traced Joan’s story from her birth in 1914, through a difficult relationship with her mother, a childhood enlivened by theatre, her entry into RADA and establishment of the ground breaking theatre workshop in the 1950s. No mean feat in itself as she took on the persona of Joan, her mother, long-time partner Gerry Raffles, Barbara Windsor (another Littlewood protégé) and Shelagh Delaney, author of A Taste of Honey, one of her biggest successes. There were nods to Fings Ain’t What They Used T’be (her memorable collaboration with Lionel Bart) and Oh What A Lovely War!, a production she eventually took to Broadway. Gemskii was charming, engaging and convincing throughout the performance. However, she was let down by a venue totally unsuited to this type of production. Her costume changes were exposed by inadequate screening, and I was concerned for her safety as she struggled to move a lighting rig, needing the assistance of an audience member on more than one occasion. There were trailing wires taped down, people scraping chairs trying to get comfortable, cups being knocked over, people arriving late, which is more disruptive in a small venue; all of which caused unnecessary breaks in the performance. Theatre should of course never be restricted to plush West End venues, it belongs to the people and community just as much, and I’m sure Joan herself would have endorsed the principle. But, I couldn’t escape the feeling I was sitting in a health centre or children’s play group.
Written and Performed by: Gemskii
Director: Oliver Senton
Producer: Infallible London
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run