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Subject: Joan Littlewood, director

dead at 87
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Date Posted: September 22, 2002 4:29:12 EDT

British theater director Joan Littlewood, who brought the musical "Oh What a Lovely War" to the stage, has died, London's Theater Royal Stratford East said on Saturday. She was 87.

Littlewood and her Theater Workshop transformed British drama in the 1950s and 1960s with productions of Brendan Behan's "The Hostage," Shelagh Delaney's "A Taste of Honey" and Frank Norman's "Fings Ain't Wot They Used To Be."

With her partner Gerry Raffles she brought international fame to the Theater Royal Stratford East, based in an unfashionable area of London well away from the bright lights of the capital's West End theaterland.

Born illegitimately in Stockwell in south London, she attended top drama school the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) but never forgot her modest origins.

Under her direction, genuine working class accents were heard on the British stage for the first time.

"Before that it was middle class people who went to RADA and learned to talk Cockney," said Philip Hedley, the Theater Royal's artistic director and Littlewood's former assistant.

"It's very extraordinary now to see that was a revolution in its day -- because now it's so common," he told Reuters.

Her subversive and radical approach is best known from "Oh What a Lovely War," a revue-style collection of satirical sketches and songs from World War One she devised in 1963.

The British critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote of her: "It now seems quite likely that when the annals of British Theater in the middle years of the 20th century are written, Joan's name will lead all the rest."

Littlewood died in her sleep on Friday evening in London.

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