Little Women 2002

Louisa May Alcott's classic novel is fondly cherished by many and it's with a real sense of anticipation that one awaited its adaptation by Novel Theatre. As the name suggests the company was set up specifically to dramatise inspirational books and must be well aware of the inherent pitfalls in transferring from page to stage. The broad scope of the imagination is hard to match but clearly the production has struck a chord since this is its 3rd London season, now redesigned for the Lilian Baylis.

The story of the four March sisters surviving hardship and heartbreak during the American Civil War is a superb piece of storytelling and by and large the company capture the spirit & humanity of the book admirably, the slightly lacklustre first half giving way to a far more robust, satisfying conclusion after the interval. Casting is crucial here where every reader has a clear idea of each sister's personality: romantic Meg, rebellious Jo, headstrong Amy and gentle Beth and thankfully this is one of the best aspects of the production, the only exception being Sarah Grochala's Jo who, like Paul Hampton's Laurie, sometimes loses credibility by overacting.

Emma Reeves has adapted both Little Women and its sequel Good Wives confidently, her vision ably assisted by Rachael Payne's excellent set which uses a transparent backcloth to add depth to many of the most poignant scenes. Maintaining the original appealing blend of homespun wisdom and humour, Reeves and the cast bring Alcott's life-affirming & timeless books beautifully to life.

(Amanda Hodges)

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