Little Women

March 8, 2018 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆ Wholesome entertainment

Assembly Roxy: Wed 7 – Sat 10 March 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women gets a sensitive and thoroughly entertaining musical theatre adaptation at the Assembly Roxy from new Edinburgh amateur company Shoots Theatre.

The musical premiered on Broadway in 2005 and is a decidedly wholesome affair, but never overbearingly so. Under Sheryn Ali’s clear direction the company provide a strong taste of the twisting emotions of the four March girls growing up in roral poverty during the America civil war

Hanna Ward, Ashley Davis (rear); Kirsten Keggie, Lesley Ward and Ruth Hutton (front). Pic Shoots Theatre

Allan Knee’s book finds would-be blood-and-thunder writer Jo March in New York, young and impatient to get her purple prose published. Stung by the judgement that she can do better from the aloof Professor Bhaer, the first half skips through her memories of her youth at home in Concord, where her writing was appreciated and formed the basis for Christmas entertainments.

The strengths of the production are many. Notably a solid core casting for the four March girls. Ruth Hutton stands out as Jo. She has a lovely singing voice – a bit of a problem changing into her upper register – but in her range it is mellow and conveys much of Jo’s character with ease.



It’s her acting performance which really makes her stand out, however. With Jason Howland’s music not always hugely memorable – not to mention a society where men and women were unable to speak their true feelings to each other, Hutton provides a real depth to the feisty, outspoken character who cares not a jot if her fine sense of natural justice puts her at odds with society.

fragile clarity

Sixteen year-old Kirsten Keggie has a real maturity about her as piano-playing Beth March. There is a fragile clarity to her voice, which is a real complement to Hutton’s in their late second half duet Some things Are Meant To Be, when Jo returns to Massachusetts for look after her ailing sister.

Kirsten Keggie and Ruth Hutton. Pic Shoots Theatre

Ashley Davies does a great job of creating the older, socially awkward Meg. Her romance with Mr Brooke (Jake Poynter) is a pleasure of unspoken yearning.

It is hard to credit that Hanna Ward who plays the young Amy March is only 13. You quite believe her creation of this spoilt, grumpy girl, who can’t see beyond her own benefit. Rhian Ferrigan brings a separate idea of spoilt to the older Amy, after she returns from Europe in the second half.

The four are ably supported. Michael Davies stands out as Bhaer, his duet with Jo on Small Umbrella in the Rain is a real treat and the pair come at it with an intelligent understanding of the emotional demands of the song.

Jamie Duffy puts in a thoroughly believable shift as Laurie, grandson of wealthy and curmudgeonly neighbour Mr Laurence (Keith Hendry). His feelings for Jo are clear, without being over stated and only she fails to see what they are.

diffident

There isn’t a huge amount for Lesley Ward to get her teeth into as the girls’ mother, Marmee. She is maybe a bit too diffident, but she never overpowers in her scenes, allowing the stage to belong to her daughters. Suzanne Vaughan Spencer’s character role as Aunt March provides the laughs.

A scene from one of Jo’s “blood and thunder” sagas. Pic Shoots Theatre.

The company’s other big strength is its attention to detail. Without vastly expensive production values, what is on stage is used to excellent effect. A central staircase, which can revolve to denote different scenes, is a quick and simple solution to constant scenery changes. The lighting is just right, while the depiction of Jo’s purple passages is nicely cartoonish.

MD Ross Hamilton has ensured that musically this works in the small venue, although it can get a bit fuzzy round the edges on the couple of occasions when everyone is on stage singing. Still, Simon Hanson keeps things in musical control from the electronic keyboard. His accompaniment, like the staging, might be a suggestion of what a much larger and better-funded production could achieve, but this works perfectly on its own terms.

A production which is capable of drawing in the most hardened cynic, despite themselves. It is perhaps too sketchy to properly reflect Alcott’s novel, but it certainly provides a satisfying hint at what it can be.

Running time: two hours and 35 minutes (including one interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Wednesday 7 – Saturday 10 march 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm; matinee, Sat: 2pm.
Tickets and details: www.assemblyroxy.com.

Shoots Theatre website: www.shootstheatre.co.uk.
Facebook: @shootstheatre.
Twitter: @shootstheatre.

ENDS

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