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Review of Little Women at The Space

Little Women
Little Women

A production of Little Women set in Crouch End. Hmmm. This most American of nineteenth-century novels is transformed into a contemporary play that just about convinces. The March sisters retain their names from the 150-year-old book, and although there is some mention of their father, this modern stage adaptation has little pining for someone who – whisper it – isn’t coming back: this isn’t The Railway Children, which makes the perspective of Ma (Victoria Jeffrey) all the more painful. As with the book and with the Broadway musical, the natural order of things is disrupted, inasmuch as it is unfair for a parent to be predeceased by one of their own children.

In the pre-show, Christmas decorations are being put up as the audience continues to file in. Patrons are seated on two sides of the performance space, but only occasionally does it become like watching a tennis match when two characters engage in dialogue at opposite ends of the stage. The tinsel, lights and presents (and the like) are collectively a metaphor for surface level happiness hiding deeper and darker feelings and emotions, and it isn’t long before the four siblings, Meg (Isabel Crowe), Jo (Amy Gough), Beth (Miranda Horn) and Amy (Stephanie Dickson) might as well be panellists on an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. Enter Ma (and this happens on more than one occasion) at just the right moment, with a few choice words for her charges.

While Pa March has been deemed surplus to requirements in this production, it is not completely devoid of on-stage male characters – though one of these days someone somewhere will push the boat right out and put on a version of Little Women with only the women, for it is the women in the story that provide much intrigue. Sean Stevenson’s Laurie, literally the boy next door, provides stunning actor-musicianship. Both Laurie and his tutor, John Brooke (Joshua Stretton) quickly develop a keen interest in the March sisters, something which they maintain to the end of the play, and presumably beyond. Professor Bhaer (Jonathan Hawkins) brings out another side to the otherwise feisty and dry-witted Jo, whilst possessing the kind of eccentricities that such intellectuals
sometimes have.

The trouble with this play is that even with all the strife and disagreements, the sisters are still too quaint for the modern era. Just when one begins to wonder if this adaptation even is in the modern era, an inconspicuous reminder comes along that it is – when the sisters, in a meeting of their own society, debate a motion regarding the admission of young Laurie into their fold, there is deadlock in a two-all result. But there is a way out: a second referendum (geddit?), which is duly held. Then again, devoid of any technological devices and gadgetry (when there is a need for the sisters to call Ma, nobody whips out a mobile), and with Jo bashing out stories on a typewriter, the present-day costumes (if they are to be called costumes at all) don’t represent a bygone era when such stories were on paper and stored in a box rather than a USB stick, a ‘cloud’ or even on a weblog.

That is not something to dwell on too much. For one thing, there were audible sobs from the audience by the close of proceedings to go along with the ones on stage: there’s life to be lived, and the remaining siblings go their separate ways, starting families and careers. But yet another Christmas rolls around, and the clan re-gather. As all eight on-stage characters are sat around the same table, there is some inevitable reminiscing. The character development is deep enough to be able to clearly distinguish between the sisters on multiple levels, and overall, it is emotionally engaging. A challenging, detailed and poignant production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s Christmas Eve.
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are up late, plotting what to get their Ma as a present and spying on their new wealthy neighbour. They bicker. They cheer. Sisters who can’t live without each other.

But all this is about to change.

Celebrating 150 years of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Space Productions present Little Women. Adapted by Rachael Claye (The Lighthouse, 2016) and directed by Sepy Baghaei (CITIZEN, 2018) this is inventive, joyful theatre. A celebration of sisterhood and a bittersweet story of family, loss and love.

The March sisters. Each challenging society’s expectations of them. Each as relevant today as they ever were.

Cast
Meg March – Isabel Crowe
Jo March – Amy Gough
Beth March – Miranda Horn
Amy March – Stephanie Dickson
Mrs March – Victoria Jeffrey
Laurie Laurence – Sean Stevenson
John Brooke – Joshua Stretton
Prof Bhaer – Jonathan Hawkins

Creatives
Presented by Space Productions
Playwright – Rachael Claye
Director – Sepy Baghaei
Creative Producer and Dramaturg – Grace Chapman
Stage Manager and Technical Operator – Keri Mason
Costume Designer – Kelli Baleta
Lighting Designer – Andy Straw
Sound Designer – Sepy Baghaei
Fight Director – Jonathan Hawkins

Little Women
27 November – 15 December
The Space
https://space.org.uk/

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