Tangled Web’s production of “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, started life in Edinburgh in 1999. It then had a run at the Upstairs in the Gatehouse theatre in Highgate earlier this year and now is has opened at the New End Theatre in Hampstead, and what a fine production it is.
Alcott’s 1868 novel and its sequel “Good Wives”(1869) have been dramatised in this beautiful adaptation by Emma Reeves who has skilfully condensed the essence of the stories into a 2-hour family play. It is an inspirational story of hope, love and ambition that is both touching and funny.
The story concerns four sisters, the March girls, a poor family growing up during the American Civil War. There is Jo, the rebellious tomboy sister who is striving to be a writer and who refuses to conform to society. Beth is the timid one, happy to perform domestic duties and having no yearning for worldly success. Amy, is the selfish sister who wishes to become an artist and then there is Meg who wishes for love and finds it. But essentially the central figure is Jo and her interaction with the other sisters as each finds their own satisfaction in life except Jo who seems intent on remaining a spinster afraid to commit to a relationship and feeling frustrated.
Sarah Grochala plays the part of Jo with utter conviction. She dominates the stage with her vibrant movements and authoritative matriarchal voice. But then this is a terrific character that must be a joy to play! Nikki Leigh Scott (who by the way reminds me of a young Maggie Smith, with her facial features and voice), perfectly captures the naive and delicate Beth. You feel her warmth and contentment as well as her desire for the whole family to be happy. Sarah Edwardson (Meg) and Diana Eskell (Amy) are also believable. There is also a terrific performance from Ann Micklethwaite who plays the stern rich Aunt March, who provides much humour. The only character I had problems with is the mother played by Lizzie Conrad. The character seemed too cold and distanced from her children. There was also no depth to the character and no emotion. Maybe an older actor may have been more convincing as the mother looked too young to have four children. But this is a minor gripe in what is a solid ensemble.
The New End theatre only seats around 50 people, and the stage is not very big so it demands great skill to design a set that works so well in such a small space, but Rachel Payne succeeds with an inventive set design. She makes full use of several boxes being moved around the stage to be used as suitcases, desks, stairs and a coffin and more, which allows the action to flow fluently. I also like the way the death scene is performed behind a net curtain, which creates a dreamlike atmosphere.
Director Andrew Loudon keeps the pace of this drama moving while still allowing the characters to develop and he also never allows the emotional scenes to become too sentimental.
This delightful story of family relationships is a joy and is certainly worth seeing, particularly at this festive time.