Louisa May Alcott, freely adapted by Rachel Gammon, Suzanna Hurst, Sarah Moore, Rachel Porter and Alice Roots
Figs in Wigs and HOME
Books considered to be classics are often daunting as getting the most out of them requires a certain amount of effort, even research, to appreciate the significance of events or reasons for the actions of characters.
Therefore, Figs in Wigs begin their very free adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women with a 20-minute prologue in which they painstakingly 'womansplain' the meaning of key events and give away vital plot points. Of course, the five members of the company perform the prologue while levitating above the stage. It is a striking opening but has limitations—the cast are immobile and speaking in an affected, restrained tone—so it becomes a bit dull.
The need to clear the stage necessitates an interval, so the value of the prologue does not become apparent until the play begins and allows the cast to give knowing looks to the audience as predicted plot points and character traits arise. Until then, however, a few patrons in the interval were wondering aloud about the purpose of the opening act. Little Wimmin is, therefore, a show that requires, and rewards, a degree of patience.
Only about a third of the play is based upon the source novel; the rest is inspired lunacy that on occasion slips into the surreal. The opening of the second act features the cast, for some reason favouring orange costumes and wigs, playing out scenes from the novel faithfully if in a manner that suggests they are aware the material may not entirely satisfy a contemporary audience. Gradually, modern aspects develop: the beating of a carpet becomes a cathartic exercise in crushing the patriarchy and a discrete party ends with the sisters performing oral intimacy on an ice display.
Little Wimmin is stuffed with glorious visual and verbal puns. A character begs her sisters to hold her hands and, as they oblige, passes them a pair of hands. A talking tree criticises the cast for wooden acting and a horse stresses the need to be stable. The Figs are able to convey emotion without using dialogue. The distress in the sequence where the sisters read out a treasured letter from their father comes entirely from the reactions of the cast as the letter contains nothing more than ‘’blah, blah, blah’’.
There is usually method in the madness of The Figs—the talking tree delivers a critique of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. However, the more surreal aspects of Little Wimmin may not be to everyone’s taste. A musical interlude of the cast dancing and miming to a Chris Rea song works surprisingly well. Yet even The Figs seem to sense the final sequence, in which an elaborate, not to mention grotesque cocktail is mixed, wears out its welcome—remarking on the time taken by a machine to squeeze the juice out of limes (‘’Long minute’’).
There are moments of sublime humour even in the sequences that are funny peculiar rather than simply comedic. A lengthy build-up results in an astoundingly funny pay-off as The Fig playing the doomed Beth contrives a bizarre method of developing a vocal tremor to make her final song emotionally powerful.
Little Wimmin is a show that requires some effort and forbearance on the part of the audience but does not disappoint those willing to step outside their comfort zone and try something new.
Reviewer: David Cunningham