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Review of Joan, Babs & Shelagh Too at Tara Theatre

Highlights“When you take revolution out of art it’s meaningless” pronounces Gemskii as she portrays Joan Littlewood in her one-woman tour-de-force production Joan, Bab’s & Shelagh Too.

The production is currently running in various venues up and down the breadth of the UK and on the 23rd May 2018, Tara Arts in Earlsfield became home, for one night only, to this rather wonderful one-woman production.
The piece runs at 80 minutes and documents the life and works of Joan Littlewood; the woman who has been labeled the mother of modern theatre.

Now, unless you’ve studied theatre, or have read about Joan and her work with Theatre Workshop at Stratford Royal, East London, it is unlikely that you will have heard of her, which is a real shame because this woman really is responsible for changing the way that theatre companies rehearse and develop theatre.

It is for this reason that this piece is so important, not only does it showcase the ways in which Joan worked, but it also celebrates her idiosyncracies and characterization.

The piece is wonderfully meta, which is to say that Gemskii has created a production which is both defined by and explores the ways of Joan Littlewood, it’s beautifully self-referential and self-aware, devised to respect and showcase the work of one of theatre’s true innovators.

Joan was a colourful character who spoke as she saw fit, she used theatre as a tool for political change and worked extensively with her actors to draw out truthful performances. She is probably most remembered for “Oh What a Lovely War” and “A Taste of Honey”. Although, as this show explores, she didn’t have the easiest of lives and she used theatre as a vehicle to celebrate and comment on the hard work and lifestyles of the working class.

What is so great about this piece is, that although it’s a one-woman show, I really did feel that I was watching an ensemble of performers, Gemskii is hugely talented and is able to bring each of our protagonists to life in front of us.

As well as a very truthful and heartfelt performance of Joan, Gemskii also brings Barbara Windsor, Sheilagh Delaney, Ewan MacColl and Gerry Raffles alive in front of us. Her Barbara Windsor is a pure delight, the depth of character work she has put in to deliver a true likeness of Barbara rather than a caricature or impression is admirable.

The piece is performed through a variety of styles and artistic mediums including, monologue, audience interaction, song, dance, slide shows, improvisation, puppetry, old-school sing along, shadow puppetry. All of these methods are executed to a very high-standard and showcase Gemskii as a hugely talented performer. You have heard of triple-threat, I really do think Gemskii is a triple-triple-triple threat!

Although performed by one woman, the piece was written by Gemskii and has been put together with a very strong creative team including direction by Oliver Award Winner Oliver Senton. This team of 12 have devised and created a really special piece of theatre which deserves to be seen by many audiences. The night I went Gemskii was rewarded with a standing ovation, which I believe was as much for Joan as it was for Gemskii.

5 Star Rating

Review by Faye Stockley

Conscious Theatre presents a whirlwind journey through the life of Joan Littlewood, one of the 20th century’s greatest theatrical visionaries and arguably the most unsung hero of British theatre. Unquestionably brilliant, undoubtedly maverick, undeniably rude, Joan, Babs & Shelagh Too chronicles the life of a fascinating character ahead of her time.

This is a Joan show made Joan’s way. It is Joan’s life story told partially in Joan’s own words, partly through those of her most famed collaborators and a lot of text has been in-tuned through improvisation. The show explores what made Joan the idiosyncratic character that she was. Joan Babs & Shelagh Too takes the audience on a journey through the rapidly changing theatrical landscape of 20th century Britain, from Joan’s childhood in post World War One London, passing through Manchester where she formed her political ideology, to the explosion of success that was Theatre Workshop at Stratford East’s Theatre Royal in the 50’s and 60’s.

Joan, Bab’s & Shelagh Too
Wednesday 23rd ay 2018


  • Faye Stockley

    Faye read Theatre & Performance at The University of Warwick; she went on to work as a stage manager in London and Edinburgh. She had a year's stint on-board the MV Island Escape as a Social Host and Compere and now works full time as a Recruitment Manager for the broadcast, entertainment and media sectors.

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