Two actors who've become synonymous with London's East End, Jessie Wallace (aka Kat Moon in EastEnders) and Gary Kemp (The Krays), will lead the cast in Theatre Royal Stratford East's new version of Lionel Bart's renowned East End musical, Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, which will run next year to coincide with the centenary of the birth of Joan Littlewood.
Famously, Bart's musical was developed in 1959 by Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop Company at Stratford East, before transferring to the West End's Garrick Theatre where it ran for 886 performances and won an Evening Standard Award for Best Musical. The production launched the career of Barbara Windsor and provided the name for the popular hit song by Max Bygraves.
Next year, the new version of the musical, adapted by Elliot Davis (Loserville, Soho Cinders) and directed by Terry Johnson, will be mounted alongside a new production of another of Littlewood's signature Theatre Workshop musicals: Oh What a Lovely War. Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be runs at Stratford East from 20 May to 8 June 2014 (previews from 8 May), prior to a UK tour.
Preceding the birth of rock and roll and the Beatles, Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be is set at the end of the 1950s in an East End underworld of gamblers, spivs, prostitutes and Teddy boys. It centres around Fred, a loveable rogue, who comes out of prison to find he is not quite the king of the manor he once was.
The story, written by ex-con Frank Norman, was discovered by Littlewood, who began directing the show as a play initially. She then employed local Lionel Bart to write songs for the piece. Three years later, Bart went on to write his most famous musical, Oliver!.
Elliot Davis' new version, developed with support from the Lionel Bart Foundation and Samuel French Publishers, includes new material and songs from the Bart songbook, including "If I Say I Love You, Do You Mind?", "Living Doll" and "Sparrers".
In the cast, Jessie Wallace plays Lil, with Gary Kemp, the former Spandau Ballet band member, as PC Collins. The cast also includes Sarah Middleton (as Rosie), Ruth Alfie Adams (Brenda), Will Barton (Percy) and Suzie Chard (Betty).
The production is designed by William Dudley, choreographed by Nathan M Wright and produced by Theatre Royal Stratford East, Elliot Davis, Paul Tyrer & Jamie Clark for The Booking Office, and Ros Povey Productions.