Little Women is a classic novel that I had never read. It had existed on the fringes of my knowledge as it is referred to in most American popular culture – but I knew only vague outlines of the story. So it was a treat for me to see it with fresh eyes – though my companion had read it and loved it.
This production moves the action to modern day London. The girls are cared for by their widowed midwife mother (Victoria Jeffrey). The action starts at Christmas as the girls decorate their home. We see older sister Meg (Isabel Crowe) establish her role as carer in Ma’s absence, Jo (Amy Gough) as the troublemaker and dreamer, Amy (Stephanie Dickson) as the spoiled and artistic younger sister and finally Beth (Miranda Horn) as the quiet mechanically minded one.
During the holiday meet the new neighbour boys – sensitive pianist Laurie (Sean Stevenson) and sensible tutor Brooke (Joshua Stretton). Relationships are established and patterns of behaviour set that will continue to inform the characters motivations throughout the play.
The set is sparse and occasionally awkward. When the action takes place at the sides it can be hard for the audience to see it properly. But the device of using the Christmas lights works well throughout and brings a sense both of festive cheer and circularity to the play. Sometimes it did feel as if the actors – particularly Ma were acting for a bigger stage than the one this piece was set on. They were projecting to a back row that was a lot further back than anyone was– and these slightly actorly mannerisms distracted slightly. Equally, the first half was too long at 90 minutes – and sagged as a result.
However, the second half was much better paced and as a result of both this and the well-acted and highly moving drama, I found myself considerably more engaged by the end. Overall the performances were strong – Meg and Amy I liked in particular as well as the charming second half addition of Professor Bhaer (Jonathan Hawkins).
The Marches are a rambunctious family and this was an a production that reflected that. The device of having the girls improvise on set as the audience arrived gave a natural glimpse into their chaotic, but idyllic lives and was a great way to ease an audience into the action in the space.
Little Women is a flawed but ultimately charming production. An edit in the first half and a better familiarity with the performance space and it would be even better. But as it is, I would say it is definitely worth a visit.
Little Women is on at The Space until 15 December https://space.org.uk/