What started as an online reading on Zoom during lockdown, the recently adapted Little Women by Anne-Marie Casey, is currently touring the UK with direction from Brigid Lamour. It is based on the well-received and influential novel of the same name, written by Louisa May Alcott and originally published in 1868 to critical acclaim. The coming-of-age, semi-autobiographical novel is still a popular choice for young adults to this day with its story of the passage from childhood to womanhood.
The book tells the story of the March family: mother Marmee and her daughters, beautiful Meg, tomboy Jo, sensitive Beth, and spoilt Amy, as they struggle to survive in New England during the American Civil War. With their patriarch serving away from home, The March family rely on their inner circle for family, friendship, and love.
Casey originally adapted Little Women in 2011 but due to the source material proving too long and expensive to restage, it was further streamlined for 2022. Casey intended to focus on Jo (Rachel McAllister) for her adaptation and her aspirations to become a writer. Although this gave McAllister the spotlight to which she deserved, it unfortunately brought no depth to the rest of the talented cast. This was particularly evident in the more poignant moments of the original whereby it was hard to, dare I say, care about the outcome. As a standalone piece, it is somehow apparent that it has been heavily streamlined from the source material yet, act one feels lengthy with no real motivation.
McAllister’s performance is phenomenal. Her comic prowess is impeccable, and both emotionally and physically becomes her character. Her acting choices are reminiscent of Miranda Hart in her sitcom - something I certainly was not mad about. Her acting particularly shines during scenes with Daniel Francis-Swaby (Laurie Laurence) and Tom Richardson (Professorand Bhaer) with excellent chemistry, allowing us to root further for Jo.
Francis-Swaby’s performance was consistent throughout and brought a warmth to each scene, but also a lot of heart during his interactions with Jo. Richardson came into his own in act two when he effortlessly switched his role with a consistent German accent and well-rounded character.
Each of the cast managed to convey the passing time throughout, showing their maturity and growth as a character. This was subtly but effectively shown by Ruari Murchison’s period costume design with an increasing heel height as the show progressed to show their aging and character progression. Murchison was also in charge of set design. Much of the show had a constant set with a slight variation in act two. The perimeter used tree trunks which effectively signified the grounded nature of the March family and how their roots would always pull them back home. During certain scenes, the stage drapery was used to move us to a different location, this could have been used to better effect as throughout you could still see the rest of the set in the background which became stilted in act one and clunky in act two. A magical moment in the final scene, however, was beautifully done with the use of snow falling both up and down stage which added dimension to the heartwarming scene.
The standout scenes from the piece were during the cast’s rendition of ‘Silent Night’ in both acts, with flawless harmonies and emotions heightened in act two. Lighting design by Kate Bonney further enhanced the production with shallow, solemn lighting during the winter seasons and seamless scene transitions in combination with Niroshini Thambar’s compositions and sound design.
Overall, this adaptation had an attentive cast who brought this classic to life. It is a lengthy feat to adapt a well-loved novel and unfortunately this leaves the play short of the mark in comparison to other adaptations, leaving the audience feeling just lukewarm in what should be a heartwarming piece.
Little Women is running at Home Manchester until Saturday 23rd December, more information can be found here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography provided by Home Theatre