‘Little Women’ was the first book in a semi-biographical trilogy, by American novelist Louisa May Alcott’s, written when she 36 yrs. old. Preferring to write short stories, her publisher almost forced Alcott into writing this book for schoolgirls.
Louisa May Alcott was born 187 years ago next week. 29th November 1832. Raised in New England by her transcendentalist parents, she grew up with family friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist, remaining unmarried throughout her life. Alcott’s family suffered from financial difficulties. On 6th March 1888 she died from a stroke, only two days after her father. Occasionally Alcott used the pen name A. M. Barnard, when she wrote spy novels for young adults.
This version of the famous novel was recently adapted light-heartedly for the stage by UK comedy actor, Peter Clapham. This two-and-a-half-hour production is presented by ARENAarts at the Roxy Lane Theatre, 55 Ninth Avenue and Roxy Lane, Maylands and is playing each Friday and Saturday evening at 8.00 until Saturday 30th November with 2.00 pm Sunday matinees on the 17th and 24th November.
This little theatre has grown beautifully in the couple of years since its basic inception. The stage has a quality curtain, the lighting rig is now large enough to give atmosphere and simple effects. The set is first class and the ticket price still a bargain. With free parking on site, what more could you wish for?
The book was delightful but heavy, here we have all the nuances of joy and sadness are portrayed, bringing the story life in a way which is still dramatically satisfying. With no American accents or complicated dialogue this play could be understood and enjoyed by children over twelve.
The Scene: 1868, in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts.
The set: is impressive. Designed by Christine Ellis and built by Jim Chantry, is a comfortable lounge room of a family who were wealthy but have now hit hard times. Next to a curtained window, there is a small upright piano, comfortable highbacked fruit wood sofa and matching winged armchair. A real fire in the marble fireplace. A couple of coffee tables and a Persian rug on the plain black floor. Through the large rear arch is the passageway and stairs up to the bedrooms. The flats forming the cream walls have been perfectly joined – rare in small theatre productions – and well decorated.
The large family Christmas tree is on the auditorium floor. The many fine and accurate props are thanks to Marina Cappola, Rebecca and Chris Ellis.
Simon James did a great job with the lighting and the soft, realistic noises off. Some of the lighting and sounds required critical cuing – spot on. Justin Markham and Peter Giles helped Marina with the stage management.
Four teenaged sisters and their mother, Marmee – Margaret March (Jenny Smith), live in discreet poverty. Having lost all his money, the girls’ father, a Pastor (Justin Markham) has gone as chaplain to the front line of the American Civil War. The family are facing their first Christmas without him.
To help support the house, sixteen-year-old Meg (Annabel Eirth) a wistful girl, tutors local children and her eldest sister, the impulsive headstrong tomboy, Jo (Stephanie Hickey), helps in the mansion of her wealthy but miserable, elderly great-aunt ‘March’ (Sally Boteler – a tough old bird) and writing stories in her spare time. Timorous Beth (Bella Freeman), a thirteen-year-old is petrified of school, so stays at home helping with housework and practising the piano. Elegant, pre-teenage Amy (Evie Madeleine) with beautiful blonde ringlets is still at school and loves anything artistic.
When the Rev. March takes ill, his wife rushes to his side leaving the housekeeper, dear Hannah (Julie Holmshaw) to look after the girls. ‘When the cat is away’ … It is not long before there is a visit from an elderly but very wealthy neighbour, Mr Laurence (Paul Anderson) who is accompanied by his son Theodore, known simply as Laurie (Blake Hughes), who has his romantic eyes on Jo. Soon Meg has a caller too, he is the dapper quiet John Brooke (Peter Giles) young Laurie’s tutor. However, wretched Aunt March wants to stop any possible affairs and then further bad health strikes the family.
The cast all had several costume changes. The excellent quality costumes which were perfect for the period, were sourced and adjusted by Megan Smith, with the guidance of costumière Marjorie deCaux.
Director Christine Ellis has had a few last-minute cast changes, but most of the actors were really excellent and her direction was innovative. There was one young enthusiastic actor, who knew his script well but had poor eye contact with other actors, even regularly glancing at the audience; Having said that, the acting was of a particularly high standard with moments of true drama, poignancy and love.
The humour of the play was well performed with plenty of movement and great body language. The two youngest girls are in years 7 and 8 at school – very well done, flawless. Steph was exceptional as the bolshie Jo, the family’s nightmare. Great teamwork.
This adaptation is most enjoyable, being acceptable to a much larger age group than the books.
A very pleasant and entertaining evening. Recommended.