Pros: A vivid and joyful updating of a well-loved family classic.
Cons: About and hour too long and could feel more contemporary.
Little Women at The Space in the Isle of Dogs joins the ranks of the many contemporary versions of classic texts in the theatre of recent years. While this is a trend we might be growing weary of, if ever there was a text that deserves a second lease of life and an airing in our current society, it’s Little Women. Alcott’s forward thinking work of proto-feminism puts a family of strong women centre stage, which is refreshing to us today and was, at the time of its conception, frankly astonishing. This is celebrated by Space Productions in a piece bursting with irreverent fun.
Writer Rachael Claye’s adaptation remains largely truthful to the original text, with a few fundamental differences necessary to making the story work in a modern setting – such as the removal of Pa March from the play, whose absence, as Claye astutely observes, plays a greater role in the girls’ lives than his presence in the original. Claye takes what is already a fantastic story and makes it relatable for a contemporary audience: the dialogue is lively and engaging and the relationships – the true joy of the original text – translate well to the modern day. She brings out what is timeless about this classic, the reason readers 150 years later still adore the novel: it’s about relationships, about family and about women.
There are, however, a few fundamental issues with the adaptation. First, at the risk of sounding like Jo’s soulless publishers demanding an artistic butchery, the whole thing is far too long. While I understand it is a very long novel, across two volumes, there were many scenes that were superfluous and could have been cut in the interest of the show (which runs for over two and a half hours). It’s really a shame because this is a very entertaining show, which should leave the audience wanting more, rather than shuffling on their seats and looking at their watches worrying about their journey home. There also seem to be a few fundamental holes in the modernisation, where they can’t quite figure how to make an element of the text work in a modern setting. There is huge ambiguity over Beth’s illness and what it is that, in this day and age, could carry off a 19 year old woman without ever being explained or resolved.
Little things like Jo’s insistence on using a typewriter, and the absence of technology as a whole, leaves the whole thing feeling rather quaint and still like watching a period piece. The young women’s interests, revulsion at alcohol and parties, and manner of speaking all means that these just aren’t believable as modern day teens. Some of the performances perpetuate this – Stephanie Dickson as Amy pitches the character far too young for a woman apparently applying to art college. None of this means, however, that the show isn’t entertaining to watch: it’s fun, uncomplicated, and easy to get carried along with.
This is a lively and enthusiastic company whose joy is infectious to watch. This is immediately established in the opening, as the audience file in, as the girls playfully deck the halls for Christmas. The acting, however, is a little mixed. Many of the performances feel a little over the top, particularly in the modern setting. I could see that these were attempts at characterisation and character definition, but unfortunately it often comes across as actors playing stereotypes. Miranda Horn as Beth stands out from the crowd with a very sensitive portrayal: her heart-wrenching death scene, an iconic moment of tragedy in the text, leaves hardly a dry eye in the house.
For all the difficulties of bringing a Victorian story to the twenty-first century, this is a highly enjoyable, entertaining show that has all the ups and downs, laughter and tears of the original. Space Productions have taken a classic with a story that we can all relate to in sometimes painful profundity and brought it up to date and back on our radar and for that they should be applauded. This is an uplifting family show for Christmas that reminds us of the value of family, and the importance of those bonds even when they’re at their most vexing.
Playwright/ Adapted by: Rachael Claye
Original Author: Louisa May Alcott
Director: Sepy Baghaei
Box Office: 0207 515 7799
Booking Link: https://space.org.uk/event-booking/?event=littlewomen
Booking until: 22nd December 2018