Oh what a lovely archive: British Library gets Joan Littlewood treasure trove

Theatre Royal Stratford East’s colourful history is documented in more than 100 boxes of material collected by actor Murray Melvin

It is cheering to learn that the Murray Melvin Archive, documenting the story of the Theatre Royal Stratford East from 1884 to 2017, has been donated to the British Library. Students and theatre buffs will soon have access to a treasure trove that provides a portrait not just of a building but also of the work of one of the great, unsung pioneers of postwar theatre, Joan Littlewood.

No one is better qualified to tell the story than Murray – it is as impossible to call him Mr Melvin as it is to dub Joan “Ms Littlewood”. In his 20s he played Geoffrey, the gay art student, in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, and became an integral member of Joan’s Theatre Workshop company and enjoyed a long TV and film career working with such directors as Ken Russell and Stanley Kubrick. Today he is a spruce, dapper 88-year-old who tells me he has just been redecorating his house and is wondering whether to take on a new film role. But how did this highly accomplished actor turn into the voluntary archivist of the East End’s Theatre Royal?

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