Reading the Old Left in the Ewan MacColl and Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and Beyond: in Joan Littlewood’s engagements with the 1960s
KARLIDAG, Fatine Bahar
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Based on archival research, recent Joan Littlewood centenary events and contemporary scholarship on the Theatre Workshop of Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl, this dissertation proposes to take sides with the radical class politics of the Old Left, or Communism, to read the legacy of MacColl-Littlewood collaboration in theatre, and its continuing impacts on Littlewood’s post-theatrical work in the 1960s’ New Left. This is to demystify the ‘genius’ aura bestowed upon Joan Littlewood; to re-instate Ewan MacColl’s contribution to the legacy of this ground-breaking theatre famously known as that which revolutionized the West End; to retrofit Theatre Workshop as a sample ensemble of the larger frame of the radical left-wing interwar theatres while acknowledging the independent evolution of their work into 1950s, and to further complicate the thematically and textually oriented analytical narratives’ efforts to analyze Theatre Workshop productions. The project aims to contribute to recent discussions that recognize and object to the tendencies in scholarship and journalism to neutralize the communist tenets that shaped this theatre and actively informed its evolving dynamics from agit-prop forms to their last show Oh What a Lovely War. It defends the vital necessity of re-adjusting the interpretive lens that regards the historical left-wing theatrical endeavors as radical failures in our growingly authoritarian times, much as Chantal Mouffe defends agonistics (taking adversarial positions) as opposed to apolitical attitudes or assuming antagonisms in the presence of radical positions of class or culture (or religion, race, ethnicity, and gender). Discussing the shortcomings of late decades’ response to the class politics from the historical, philosophical and theatrical angle, this research aims to bind the interwar leftwing theatrical legacies of the Workers’ Theatre Movement and the local traditions of British popular performance with the Theatre Workshop stage and Littlewood’s post-theatrical work to advocate for continuities and discusses the necessity of expanding the formalist, textually oriented discussions with cultural materialist paradigms that prioritize the performative stages of the leftwing theatres over any abstracting or literary discussions, and intends to foster the self-definitions and manifestos of the MacColl-Littlewood collaboration as interpretive tools in understanding their work as revolutionary, anti-Establishment and communist ensemble with a permanent dedication to resist inclusion in what Baz Kershaw calls the ‘theatre estate,’ and thus explore possible methods of interpretation that resist established cannons, inspired by Littlewood and MacColl’s foundational, leftwing resistance.
- Drama