Writer: Louisa May Alcott
Adaptor: Jenny Wicks and Hannah Churchill
Director: Jenny Wicks
While the audience is still talking, the house lights suddenly lower, and harried young woman blusters in with billowing sleeves and flyaway hair. She forcefully paces the stage, which is dressed simply, but effectively, with four large trunks and a structural support that is part beam, part books. She scrambles at papers on the floor, and lets out a cry of exasperation. So the scene is set, and the iconic tomboy Jo March is embodied.
Adapted by Jenny Wicks and Hannah Churchill, this one-woman play (plus one musician/ emotional sounding board) was written during lockdown. Little Women, originally written by Louisa May Alcott, has been adapted numerous times since its initial publication and tells the story of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—in Massachusetts against the backdrop of the American Civil War. The original coming-of-age story is autobiographical, so the decision to turn it into a one-person play told from the perspective of Jo, the book Narrator, is a sound choice, if not ambitious.
That being said Hannah Churchill, who plays Jo March assumes the mantle of different characters with an effortless vivacity. There is something quite magical about the way scenes come to life as she bounces between sister to sister, one could almost imagine the overlapping voices and a house full of laughter. Churchill flips through multiple characters, through multiple timelines, at a whiplash pace. The music, provided by Reece Webster, playing Laurie the confidante, has also significant effect here, adding to the colour and energy of the vignettes. He is unobtrusive though, quietly reacting and making way for Churchill’s acting to shine through.
The direction and blocking of the show are smartly done, and the boxes with the emblazoned names are an effective visual reminder, if not a little anachronistic in typeface. At times the script is overly expository and meandering, which makes the show feel a little disjointed, though perhaps this is in fault (or in part) of the source material itself. However, the overall emotional arc of the story is well-formed, and the payoff is deserved. The story is told with earnestness and levity, willing you to root for its imperfect moral characters.
Good theatre transports and this play certainly does just that. To a dusty attic, filled with forgotten artefacts, to a living room filled with the warm glow of the hearth, to a chilly beach bathed in blue. This play is filled with familial and romantic love, comedy, and tragedy– the holy trifecta.
Touring the UK until 5 April 2023