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Brighton Fringe: Little Women – Venue: Brighton Little Theatre

Reviewer: Ely La Rue

Adaptor: Kevin M. Cunningham
Director: Nettie Sheridan
Writer: Louisa May Alcott

An enjoyable revival of an old classic with an adventurous biographical twist.

The audience take to their seats and are immediately greeted with a wonderful set: a modest home of mostly wood, complete with an iron wood burner which flickers with amber light. The scene is set for a heartfelt adaptation of the revolutionary 1868 novel Little Women which follows the trials and tribulations of the March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy and their mother, ‘Marmee’ during the Civil War. It is a wonderful set aiming to please both fans of the book and newbies alike.

The talented cast bring the characters from the popular coming of age novel to life very well. There are moments in between the scripted lines where the sisters mutter amongst themselves, excitedly fuss or squabble with each other. The sisters don top hats and pipes and play make believe together, jeering at each other and laughing- just one of the many brief, sweet interactions that encapsulate the feeling of “girlhood” and are a display of exactly how it feels to grow up with sisters. Ella Jay as Amy March and Polly Jones as Jo March are standouts. Ella is endearing and captivating – her actions and expressions are larger than life and really convey Amy’s immaturity and youth which subdues as the character matures and gets married. Polly perfectly encapsulates the Tom-boyish nature of Jo but shows great development as the character settles into her own. Kate Peltzer Dunn is a joy, too, as she plays both the vibrant Irish maid Hannah and the snooty Aunt March with perfect comedic facial expressions and accents. All performances are top notch and the American, English, German and Irish accents are convincing all around.

This adaptation brings a twist- not only do we follow the story of the March sisters and their suitors, but also the author Louisa May Alcott and her publisher Thomas Niles Jr, showing us the circumstances of how the story first came to life and the pressure Alcott felt to support her family- to the extent of making herself sick. These new scenes are derived from her letters- information perhaps not widely known to those that know the story. Although this extra context for the novel in these originally unscripted scenes add food for thought and the actress playing Alcott (Claire Chateauneuf) does a brilliant job with the material, there are times that this stylistic choice misses the mark. Scenes set in a Boston Publishing House provide good context and are a welcome addition, but there are times where Alcott is an omnipresent “spirit” in the scenes of the play and we see her reflecting the emotions of the sisters. Conveying how Alcott connected with the characters she created- and showing how they were based on herself and her own sisters- is a good dramatic device in theory, but in practice it can be distracting and causes the play to be caught in an odd limbo between naturalism and Brechtian theatre. The audience are torn between connecting with the characters and being made aware that this is all fiction.

All in all, this revival of the timeless classic is a testament to the love that clearly went into it by the cast, director and production team. It is an enjoyable, refreshing take on the novel with a wonderful cast to boot.

Runs until 11th May 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

A Heart-warming Adaption

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