August 4th, 1960
FROM THE ARCHIVES:Joan Littlewood, the theatre director who made Brendan Behan famous in London, came to his home in Dublin in 1960 where Quidnunc heard her outspoken views. – JOE JOYCE
BRENDAN BEHAN, who is not notorious for his deference to hog, dog, or devil, was impressively self-effacing – and in his own house, at that – at lunch-time yesterday.
“I don’t want to express any opinion on the difference between the Abbey Theatre, the Fun Palace, and Duffy’s Circus, he said. “SHE’LL tell you.”
“SHE” was the Behan’s house guest, a smallish, squarish, brown-eyed woman called Littlewood. Her name doesn’t appear in the Oxford Companion to the Theatre. The only Littlewood listed there is Samuel Robinson Littlewood (1875 --), editor of “The Stage”. His name is preceded by Little Tich and followed by Liturgical Drama and Liturgy. Yet Joan Littlewood has brought about a one-woman revolution in the British theatre, of such potency that actors of the “two lumps or three?” school quail at the mention of her name.
These professionals, and laymen interested in the theatre, know the essentials of the Littlewood story. They know about the associations with Brecht, about the barnstorming with little companies all over England and Wales, when the left-wing affiliations of Theatre Workshop used to bring pre-warned police parties to every performance (“nothing so conservative as trade unions,” says Joan Littlewood); about the Cockney theatre at Stratford-Atte-Bowe, which was so alive that it brought the “U” people to “non-U” places in such swarms that it finally brought the “non-U” theatre to the West End, slightly to Joan Littlewood’s distaste.
This invasion of the “two lumps or three?” theatrical territory by warm-blooded vertebrates was spear-headed by two plays, “The Quare Fella” and “The Hostage”, from the pen of Miss Littlewood’s present host.
She’s no cultist. In fact, she told me she’s a bit off Brecht since the intellectual idolators got at his stuff. But she thinks that actors and writers should know how real people talk and behave; that a play – even a serious play – should be “a happy experience”; that anybody who works professionally on a stage should be able to sing a song and do a dance and “get to an audience the way good music-hall players used to”. In brief, the theatre should be a place where human beings are entertained by human beings.
Had she been to the Abbey this trip? She had. She had heard a lot about it. “I’m ready to form a new IRA to exterminate it. A lot of Irish criticise Brendan’s plays. I’ve not been in Ireland very long, but I’ve met real people in pubs and places – heard them talk and sing, and it seems to me that Brendan’s plays are the only ones that really express those people. The stuff I saw in the Abbey was ‘rale stage Oirish’. People don’t talk like that. People don’t behave like that. Why do you Irish tolerate a publicly subsidised theatre that does so little for you?”