Joan Littlewood, one of England's most celebrated and controversial stage directors, died in her sleep this past Friday, September 20. She was 87.
Littlewood is best known for the groundbreaking 1963 musical theater piece Oh, What a Lovely War, which she created with fellow members of a group called Theatre Workshop. A fanciful chronicle of World War I, the critically acclaimed show combined slapstick with satire, in the process establishing a brand new style of theater created through improvisation. Littlewood was also a pioneer of what has come to be known as "kitchen sink" drama.
Outspoken and defiantly anti-establishment, Littlewood helped to usher in what's been called a "working class revolution in British theater." Although she retired in 1975 following the death of her partner Gerry Raffles, Littlewood's contribution remains virtually unsurpassed. In the words of critic Kenneth Tynan: "It now seems quite likely that when the annals of the British theatre in the middle years of the 20th Century come to be written, Joan's name will lead all the rest."