Louisa May Alcott
This adaptation of Little Women and its successor, Good Wives by Emma Reeves, first saw the light of day at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999. After a brief spell at the Gatehouse in Highgate, it is now being presented as the Christmas show at New End.
Under the very talented direction of Andrew Loudon, the cast of no fewer than nine do full justice to the books and provide a very entertaining afternoon or evening. In that the show is clearly aimed as much at children as adults, the provision of three matinee performances a week - on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays - is a very good idea.
The story, which will be familiar to many, is set at the time of the American Civil War. It starts with the four March daughters at various stages of growing up, with Meg the oldest, coming to womanhood and her sisters ranging down in age to the youngest, Beth, who is still a child. Andrew Loudon does an excellent job with the four actresses in delineating the different characters within the first five minutes of the performance.
In particular, Sarah Grochala, as the tomboyish Jo, gives an excellent performance. She catches the balance between aggression and the feelings of a growing girl perfectly. It is clear that this is an autobiographical role as Jo is the prospective writer of the family. It is sad to see the troubles that Louisa May Alcott must have gone through in order to get her book published and overcoming shyness to find love.
As the tale unfolds, we see the daughters growing up in a household that is poor and somewhat puritannical.
In due course, they get older, discovering men and eventually, much to their own distress, leaving the family hearth for the big wide world. The play develops very well as the children of Little Women become young wives after the interval. This lets the audience see the way in which the four girls grow up and it allows various actors and actresses to show their talents in what often seem like two different roles, as child and adult.
Ultimately, the girls are rather too good to be true but in their different ways, each ultimately reaps the reward that is appropriate to their natures. It is rumoured that the same is happening to two cast members soon and that wedding bells are impending!
Much of the strength of Andrew Loudon's direction is based upon his artistic eye. Together with designer Rachel Payne, who creates the most fantastic costumes, many of which are very beautifu, and lighting director Patrick Evans, he creates many beautiful tableaux. In particular, the use of screens makes many images look like paintings.
The acting from a very young cast is generally strong although in some cases, the accents drift around. Nikki Leigh Scott as the doomed Beth not only acts poignantly but has a sweet singing voice. Beth's journey to meet her maker is beautifully depicted and will bring a tear to the eye of all but the hardest hearted. Dewi Hughes also does well in three separate roles, especially as the hilarious maiden Aunt Carol.
As the producers say, Little Women is suitable for anyone aged seven to 70. Whether you wish to laugh or cry this Christmas, Little Women is the play for you. Make sure that you catch it before the seats run out.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher