Ewan MacColl: Dramaturge
A Thumbnail Theatre Chronology
Ewan joined an amateur drama group, the Clarion Players, which later changed its name to the Workers Theatre Movement. He took part in several productions, including The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropist, Upton Sinclair's Singing Jailbirds, and Ernst Toller's Machine Wreckers.
He formed an agit-prop group, the Red Megaphones, and for the next two years performed political sketches on the streets of Salford and Manchester.
He was joined by Joan Littlewood with whom he set up the Theatre of Action in 1934. He wrote and co-produced John Bullion.
Newsboy, a political dance-drama, the creation of the New York Laboratory Theatre, was given its British premiere at the Round House, Ancoats. For MacColl and Littlewood, it was a seminal piece and almost everything they did in the next fifteen years was influenced by it.
Littlewood and MacColl gave Waiting for Lefty (Clifford Odets) its British premiere at the Houldesworth Hall, Deansgate, Manchester.
With Littlewood, he co-produced Schlumberg's Miracle at Verdun for the Peace Pledge Union at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester. From the large body of amateur actors, artists and technicians who worked with them on this project, they formed Theatre Union.
Theatre Union's first production: Lope de Vega's Fuente Ovejuña (The Sheep Well).
Littlewood began taking over more and more of the production while MacColl undertook to find suitable plays and re-worked them to fit the theatre's resources. He also acted as a chorus-master and trained the company.
He adapted Piscator's version of The Good Soldier Schweik and took part in the production of it at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester.
Later in the year, he adapted the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, renaming the play Operation Olive Branch.
He also wrote and produced two pageants dealing with the struggle of the Spanish people against fascism.
1939 - 40
He wrote and acted in Last Edition, a living newspaper dealing with the events which led up to World War II.
With Joan Littlewood, Rosalie Williams, Howard Goomey, David Scase, Gerry Raffles and Bill Davidson, he formed Theatre Workshop. From this time on there was no more co-production. Joan became sole producer and Ewan became dramaturge, art director and resident dramatist. He wrote two one-hour pieces for the new season: Johnny Noble and The Flying Doctor. He began work on Uranium 235.
He wrote the songs for a Theatre Workshop production of Lorca's Love of Don Perlimplin for Bellisa in Her Garden. He extended Uranium 235 to a full-length play, which became a permanent item in the company's repertoire. It was played throughout Britain and finally brought to the West End by Michael Redgrave and Sam Wanamaker.
Rogues' Gallery opens at the Library Theatre, Manchester.
Operation Olive Branch plays at the Library Theatre (Manchester) prior to opening at the Edinburgh Festival.
Landscape With Chimneys is written.
The Other Animals is premiered at the Library Theatre, Manchester
The Travellers was given its premiere at the Edinburgh Festival. Also a new adaptation of Good Soldier Schweik which, after playing in several European capitols, reached the West End and played at the New Theatre in St. Martin's Lane.
NOTE: Theatre Workshop undertook annual tours of Norway and Sweden. It made a 3-week tour of Czechoslovakia; one tour of West Germany; performances in Moscow and Warsaw; fifteen tours of Great Britain and four Edinburgh Festivals. Many of MacColl's plays enjoyed long runs in the eastern bloc. Theatre Workshop ceased to exist in the summer of 1976.
John Bullion Written in collaboration with Joan Littlewood, this is an experimental political satire which combines agit-prop and expressionism. It was produced at the Round House at Ancoats in 1934.
Last Edition A living newspaper, written by MacColl and performed by Theatre Union, Manchester, 1940
The Flying Doctor A comedy written for Theatre Workshop in the pre- 1940s, based on the theme of Il Medica Volante of the Commedia dell 'arte and Moliere's Le Medecin Volant .
The Long Winter (a.k.a. Blitz Song ) A wartime tragedy, based on the theme of the Agamemnon. Written for Theatre Workshop in the 1940s
Johnny Noble. A ballad opera. Songs and text by Ewan MacColl. Produced by Joan Littlewood for Theatre Workshop, 1945. Published in Agit-Prop to Theatre Workshop.
Hell is What You Make It. A satiric comedy. Produced by Unity Theatre, London, 1945.
Uranium 235 . An episodic one-hour play with music (later expanded to full length) dealing with the connections between atomic energy and the Bomb. Written for and produced by Theatre Workshop. MacColl updated this play in 1988.
Rogues' Gallery (German title: Das Krumme Gewerbe ) A comedy (inspired by Ben Jonson's The Devil is an Ass ) written for Theatre Workshop and produced by Joan Littlewood, 1947. Was performed extensively in Germany.
Operation Olive Branch A free adaptation of the Lysistrata of Aristophanes. Written for Theatre Workshop in the pre-1940s and produced by Joan Littlewood, 1947.
The Other Animals. A Faustian tragedy, an attempt to explore expressionistic theatre: Written for Theatre Workshop and produced by Joan Littlewood, 1947. Published in Agit -Prop to Theatre Workshop
Landscape With Chimneys (a.k.a. Paradise Street ) An episodic play written for Theatre Workshop and produced by Joan Littlewood, 1951.
Dirty Old Town
A political thriller, written for Theatre Workshop and produced by Joan Littlewood, 1952. Translated into German, Polish, Russian and produced in all those countries.
The Good Soldier Schweik
Adapted from Jaroslav Hasek's novel and produced by Joan Littlewood for Theatre Workshop in 1953. Translated into Czech and German. Played extensively on the continent
You're Only Young Once . A folk tale with music, written for Theatre Workshop to take to the Warsaw Youth Festival, 1953.
The Fireman's Not For Me
Space Girl's Song
The War Game
Johnny's Going to Warsaw
See You in Warsaw, Johnny
They're A' Comin'
So Long at the Fair
(German title: Rummelplatz) Written in 1957 and produced at the Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, 1961. It enjoyed a very long run.
St. George and the Dragon
A modern mumming play, written for a group of students at a teaching course in Bristol, ca. 1964.
St. George's Song
Ours the Fruit
Written to celebrate an anniversary of the Co-operative Movement. Performed at the Drury Lane Theatre, July 1966(1967?).
A play about an aging sea captain who cannot make the transition from sail to steam, a man whom technology has rendered redundant. It mirrored Ewan's feelings about his own aging self and about the state of the world. Produced by the Library Theatre, Manchester, 1981.
Plays printed abroad
Operation Olive Branch . German title: Unternehmen Olzweig. Freely adapted from the Lysistrata of Aristophanes. Translated by Anne Maria Weber. Published by Verlag Bruno Henschel und Sohn, Berlin, 1948.
Uranium 235 . German translation by Rolf Italiander. Published by Verlag Bruno Henschel und Sohn, Berlin, 1949.
Polish translation (title: Pociag Mozna Zatrzymac) by Maria Szietynska and Tadeusz. Published by Czytelnik Spoldzielnia Wydawnicza, Warsaw, 1956