Monday, 13 October 2014

Little Women @ Salford Arts Theatre, 09.10.14

1956 Theatre’s Manchester repertory season begins with Little Women, adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s classic American novel following the rites of passage of four sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy - at the time of the American Civil War. This adaptation by Amy-Jane Ollies (who also plays the second eldest sister) and Nicole Garvin sees the action shift to World War 2 Britain, which enables some discussion about the girls’ places in the world, their entitlements and expectations, with Jo’s desire to study and write conflicting with Amy’s - the youngest - dreams of marrying someone rich.

The show begins with the four sisters standing and narrating directly to the audience, a device that is used intermittently through the rest of the action. I liked the idea of the sisters taking ownership of their story and, at times, it helped to signpost the action for the audience, but I felt that it would have been even better if one sister had been chosen to narrate - probably Jo as the biggest journey is hers - and would have been a bit less confusing. As well as this, it sometimes seemed to be used simply to join the scenes together - a difficult task for an adaptation of a long novel - in too simple a way, rather than finding a different means of allowing the story to flow and, overall, added to a sense of a lack of clear direction, particularly in the second half.

Having said this, the scenes were enjoyable and the audience was engaged throughout. Emma Fernell’s delightful portrayal of Amy generated lots of laughs and Ollie’s performance of a slightly re-imagined Jo was convincing. Special mention goes to Graham Eaglesham whose Freidrich Baer doesn’t appear until the second half but brings a strong and confident performance for the moments he is on stage.

This is an entertaining show with several nice ideas, some of which could do with a bit more commitment - were limes readily available during the Second World War? Would you be taking a casual break in Paris? Would a German Professor be having an easy time in London? - but its inventiveness bodes well for the rest of the season, which includes two pieces of new writing and another adaptation. You can catch them all at the Salford Arts Theatre.

Words: Julie Burrow

Images: Courtesy of 1956 Theatre

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