Theatre review: Little Women – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

First published in The Times, Wednesday August 3 2022

THREE STARS

The first volume of Little Women appeared more than 150 years ago, but Louisa May Alcott’s evergreen tale of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, their struggles and romantic entanglements, finds fresh audiences with every generation. The most recent film adaptation, directed by Greta Gerwig, appeared in 2019. There are no fewer than three theatrical versions running at the moment in the UK, including Mark Adamo’s opera at Holland Park and Anne Odeke’s reimagining for Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre in Chester, which transports the action from Civil War-era Massachusetts to Britain at the outbreak of the First World War.

Here, Anne-Marie Casey’s script sticks faithfully to the essentials of Alcott’s novel, even if this co-production between Pitlochry and Watford Palace Theatre, directed by Brigid Larmour, jettisons characters and scenes from the version that made its debut at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in 2011. The cast of eight does a fine job of inhabiting the sisterly quartet and sundry supporting characters, and the staging of the domestic scenes, in which the sisters, overseen by their loving Marmee (Amelia Donkor), role-play, quarrel, voice their aspirations and gather around the piano to play and sing in harmony, is particularly well handled. On the flipside, set pieces such as the dance party and ice-skating sequence feel a little quiet and underpopulated.

Pic: Fraser Band

For lovers of the book, the main events are mostly present and correct, from the opening, in which the impoverished family makes the most of a thin Christmas while Pa is off at war, to later episodes of courtship and matrimony. Meg (Jessica Brydges) opts for a modest life with Tom Richardson’s tutor; Beth (Meg Chaplin) weeps over her piano and succumbs to the lasting effects of scarlet fever. Amy (Anna Fordham) vacillates between painting and the idea of a comfortable marriage, encouraged by the imperious Aunt March (Deirdre Davis, in an entertaining supporting turn).

Pic: Fraser Band

Rachael McAllister gives an appealing, well-rounded performance as Jo, the most headstrong and questioning of the sisters, who rejects the proposals of her lifelong friend Laurie (Richie Spencer) to carve out a career as a writer in New York. The slow burn of her relationship with an idealistic German professor, Friedrich Bhaer (Richardson), is a moving highlight of the production’s second act. Whittled down to a fleet two-hour running time, the truncated script skims across the surface of the story, losing some of the tale’s emotional depth and historical context along the way. 
To Sep 29, then Watford Palace Theatre, Oct 11-22, pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com

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Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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