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REVIEW - Little Women fills HOME with warmth with stunning moments, moving harmonies, and a fresh edge of humour!


On Tuesday, we were invited to HOME in Manchester, to see Little Women. Read what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about the production...

Little Women has arrived at Home for the festive period, filling lovers of the novel with a warmth and nostalgia as they see one of their all-time favourites brought to life.  Written by Louisa May Alcott and adapted for stage by Anne – Marie Casey, this production captures the unique personalities of each of the four sisters.  Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy are the March sisters and we watch them as they navigate their way through the joys, struggles and pitfalls of being a young woman in New England during the civil war.  It is a coming of age story where each sister has a goal and must learn from trial and error how to achieve it.  Ahead of its time regarding women’s independence, it is a moving and beautiful story that highlights a multitude of desires, barriers, obligations, and truths that women faced, and how these women never gave up hope on finding their own way in the world.

Whether you are a lover of the novel, the film or entirely new to the story, this production of Little Women throws its arms open to welcome you into the fold.  A small cast delivers this cleverly streamlined adaptation, meaning that many of the characters are mentioned in passing but never seen.  This puts the focus wholly back on the women as they dominate the performance.  Rachael McAllister gifts us with the feisty and independent Jo.  She portrays the relationship with Laurie as true friendship, with never a hint of anything more, which is entirely as it should be, and even upon meeting Prof Bhaer, she retains her identity and doesn’t suddenly fawn or become anything other than who she has always been.  She plays the character with an authenticity throughout.

Meg March is performed by Jessica Brydges.  The vanity of Meg has been softened in this version and Brydges has done a wonderful job of keeping the essence of Meg whilst allowing us to see a more dutiful side too.  She gives us an understanding and reason for her vanity and plays it with humour, particularly when trying to tame Jo at the ball with nothing but a raised eyebrow.  Meg Chaplin brings us the quieter and shy Beth, who gives us a stunningly moving and beautiful scene in the tragic end to her story.  We see her transform from someone hiding in the background on the piano, to someone who exudes love, and these moments of acting are so pure that they brought a tear to many an audience member.  The youngest sister Amy March is petulant, spoilt and often immature, trying to will herself older and into the world of her sisters.  These characteristics are fantastically reflected by Julia Brown, from an exploding tantrum to a demure faint at the start of the play.  Brown leaves us in no doubt that, even though Amy has a lot of growing up to do for she may go about things the wrong way, she always knows who she is and that she will get there in the end.

Kacey Ainsworth brings a glorious warmth and safety as Marmee, truly allowing you to believe in her stability and acceptance of all her daughters various traits.  She exudes mamma hen vibes, providing quite the performance because it excels the words she speaks, and becomes about the way she makes you feel simply by being in the presence of Marmee.  Laurie is brought to life by Daniel Francis-Swaby and his relationship with McAllister onstage is punchy, equal, and bursting with life.  He subtly allows us to watch his unrequited love for Jo blossom with delicate nuances to his performance and you feel his pain.  Tom Richardson multi roles as Prof Bhaer and John Brooke, showing us his versatility between these different characters.  As Brooke he shows us someone who is initially quiet and demure yet in control, become someone unstuck by love as he meets Meg and falls instantly in love.  This contrasts to his somewhat harassed and less polished Prof Bhaer who says what is on his mind and is free from societal appearances.  Richardson captures both characters.  Completing the cast is Susan Twist as Aunt March who was just brilliant.  She is entirely believable as the wealthy and opinionated Aunt, delivering her lines with such zest that their cutting nature became humorous, and whilst no one would want to be on the receiving end, from the outside she was fantastic to watch.  A single look could cut through ice, let alone the delivery of her speeches, it was deliciously delightful.      

A multitude of locations are easily managed by easily sectioning your focus to various areas of the stage, and letting your imagination do the rest.  You know they are supposed to be on a huge lake skating because they have told you.  You know they are supposed to be at a train station in New York, or a party in Paris or Rome, because they have told you.  Nothing more is needed.  This is a play about story, content, and the delivery of that.  It doesn’t rely on huge fancy set pieces to do the work for it.  Wooden beams or trunks that represent New England’s nature are the main feature to give us a grounding location of The March’s home.  The full width and depth of the stage is made use of, with tables, a piano, a writing desk and a chaise long carefully scattered around, leaving free central space for the sisters to dance, fight, form friendships, and fall in love.

The second half opens with the addition of stunning bookcases to introduce Jo’s new home where she meets Professor Bhaer, but her family home is still surrounding her on stage, beautifully representing the wrap around love and hub of the March home.  A lavish red velvet curtain is equally used to affect to create the various parties and balls in Europe and of course, the initial ball where Jo and Laurie meet for the first time.  Little Women has so many locations that to put this on stage may seem overwhelming, but I fully applaud the approach taken by set designer Ruari Murchison for it compliments and supports the story rather than trying to spell the story out.  There is a freedom gifted to the actors, with every element of design there to support and be used in various ways.  This is also apparent in the way the stage is used by the performers, directed by Brigid Lamour.  There was a clear understanding from the actors of various areas on the stage and where they represented.  A boarding house in New York was down stage left, whilst various locations across Europe were down stage right.  

Elements of this beloved story have been edited out due to its length and done so cleverly as it didn’t affect the themes, or characters in my opinion.  However, it did still feel like quite a long show, and the pacing seemed to lag at times.  For someone coming to this story with no previous knowledge, the passing of time over the years could have been confusing and could possibly have been made clearer to follow as no overt mention is made of it.  You kind of have to pick up on clues.  With the story being so iconic, maybe it assumes that everyone already knows it.  It is testament to the story that there are so many facets to understand, so if you don’t already know it, then I’d advice a quick synopsis read before attending the show for ease.  However, this production does cut right to the heart of the story – the March sisters.  By editing out so many incidental characters, it beautifully places our Little Women centre stage and allows us to follow their growth, their motivations, and their quirks with an uninterrupted vantage point.  With some stunning moments, moving harmonies as the cast unit to sing Silent Night, and a fresh edge of humour injected into the story, this production of Little Women has stood the test of time and will leave you with plenty to think about, identify with, and continue to love for many years to come.



Little Women is on at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 23rd December 2023



All photos are credited to Chris Payne


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