Sparrows Can't Sing review, The Nation, 5/18/63, p. 430
Joan Littlewood, whose Theatre Workshop in London was the birthplace of Brendan Behan's The Hostage and Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey, and who is rumored to have had a shaping hand in those and other works, has turned to the screen. Sparrows Don't [sic] Sing by Stephen Lewis, a play very much in the workshop's tough-but-touching style, was first produced there. Its screen version is a collaboration between author and director.
Miss Littlewood's movie debut is not entirely auspicious. She does not understand the camera very well and therefore uses it as though it were a stage--which she understands with exceeding cunning. As a result, the film is jerky, crabbed and insecure in its feeling for the length of scenes and the transition from one sequence to another. More serious, perhaps, is the acting pitch. Miss Littlewood has always been given to whooping it up in the theatre, and apparently felt a need to set an even broader style in the once-removed medium of the screen.
The fact is, of course, that the camera exaggerates action, gesture and expression; a wink can only too easily go off like a flash bulb. The cast of Sparrows Don't [sic] Sing seems to be knocking itself out in spasms of alternating hilarity and rage whose motivations remain enigmatic. There is nothing more embarrassing, on stage or screen, than a cast in the grip of an excitement unshared by the audience.
A sailor, in Mr. Lewis' comedy, comes home from a two-year voyage to find his wife has again presented ;him with a child of inconveniently tender age. With many references to the terrible goings-on "last time", relatives and neighbors of the couple (cockney characters all) make frenzied efforts to prevent the husband from discovering his sparrow (girls are "birds" in London's East End) in the next of a stodgy but well-muscled bus driver. The sailor (James Booth) weaves and bobs before he has so much as seen a pub, and his wife (Barbara Windsor) twitters and skitters in a really tiresome facsimile of her title role. The supporting players are equivalently unlaced. The amorality of the picture is mildly funny, and Miss Littlewood has a right to continue publicizing her conviction that cockney enjoy an exuberance unknown to less aspirated groups. But the present extravagance begins, long before the end, to look like a show put on for gullible tourists.