Louisa May Alcott's heartwarming story about a group of sisters weathering the hardships of life- and adolescence- during the American Civil War remains a perennial classic. This production was last glimpsed in London nearly two years ago when it was staged at Sadlers Wells. Little Women and its sequel Good Wives have been amalgamated into one to give a fluid insight into the lives of the March sisters as they grow from girls into young women poised to achieve their respective potential.
Rachel Payne's simple and ingenious split-level set uses transparent screens to reflect the novel's many layers, a device particularly effective when the ensemble gather to sing as a chorus. Although I didn't find quite the depth or poignancy that the novel blends so beautifully in full evidence, most of the cast give fine performances. Sarah Edwardson is excellent as sweet-natured Meg, Diana Eskell equally good as the petulant Amy, whilst Phoebe Thomas is terrific as the somewhat ethereal Beth whose influence over the others is more pervasive than she ever imagines. And as Jo, the book's sparky tomboy, Sarah Grochala has the intensity if not always the complete conviction of Alcott's heroine.
Succinctly adapted by Emma Reeves and pacily directed by Andrew Loudon, the enduring charm of Little Women lies in its brilliant, vivid characterisation that possesses a universal appeal. In many ways the story does work best on the page, its richness a little diluted in this medium but it still retains enough magic to generally enchant.
What other critics had to say.....
MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "...induced in me only a mild torpor from which I was finally stirred by a remarkable piece of acting." FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "This is quite the most uplifting and good-natured evening on offer in the West End." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "This is an evening for soft-hearted women who enjoy a good cry ...Everyone else should avoid it like the plague." SAM MARLOWE for THE TIMES says "Stripped of any dramatic or period context, the book’s flaws — its preachy, moralistic tone and syrupy sentiment — are glaringly exposed.....serving it with so much sugar makes it unpalatable."