Little Women

Aug 18 2023 | By More

★★★★★    Knowing

Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152): Fri 4 – Sat 12 Aug 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Little Women sees Bare productions return for a second show this Fringe with another entertaining and well thought-out musical that features a top notch cast and clever direction in a limited space.

First seen in Edinburgh in 2018 – in Shoots Theatre’s strong but decidedly wholesome production – Bare’s take on the musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s American classic novel is an altogether more knowing piece, thanks to some classy direction from Jo Heinemeier and strong acting performances from the ten-strong cast.

Hannah Childs, Anna Spence, Joe Purcell, Charlotte Smith and Heather Rudolph. Pic: Bare Productions.

Allan Knee’s book sensibly presents the two volumes of the original in a series of vignettes that pick out key moments from the lives of the four March sisters during the American Civil War, interspersed with songs from Jason Howland (music) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics) which help drive the emotional development.

The company push that plot along with gusto, centred around a five star performance from Hannah Childs as Jo Marsh, who is first encountered in New York, berating the 22nd rejection letter for the blood’n’guts short stories she is hawking around town.


When she reads her latest piece to uptight fellow lodger Professor Bhaer (Mark Wilson), who dares to say that she should put more of herself into her stories, she reflects on what it was that brought her to New York from Concord, Massachusetts.

Anna Spence, Heather Rudolph and Charlotte Smith. Pic: Bare Productions.

Heather Rudolph as the staid older sister Meg, Charlotte Smith as the fey artistic third sister Beth and Anna Spence as the pushy youngest sister Amy, all bring a sense of a large family of siblings, where both love and rivalry abound. They grow and blossom as the years flash by while Christine Mills provides the solid backbone of the family as their Marmee, while their father is away at the war.

Heinemeier’s astute direction ensures that this extended flashback device makes more sense than just the recounting of a story. It’s not necessarily there in the writing, but it is certainly evident in the performances as a kind of internal editorialisation, with the world seen through the eyes of the young Jo.


It lies in the knowing glances when Joe Purcell as tongue-tied rich boy Theodore Laurence from the nearby big house comes visiting, the friction between the sisters as they get ready for a ball, and the arrival of John Brook (Andrew Hally), Theo’s tutor, whose coup-de-foudre meeting with Meg is as purple as any of the prose in Jo’s stories.

Audrey Jones and Hannah Childs. Pic: Bare Productions.

Around and apart from the younger generation, Audrey Jones is particularly effective as the fearsome Aunt March. She is quite the battleaxe you would not want to cross. Colin Cairncross doesn’t quite achieve those levels of ferociousness as Theo’s grandfather, but does provide a solid performance in the role.

Interspersed with this family drama, Jo’s swashbuckling blood’n’guts stories are given a quite magnificent telling, with all the cast pitching in as various trolls, maidens in distress, caddish highwaymen and dashing saviours.

All praise to the unnamed costume department here, and in the whole production, it all works a treat. Musical director Hannah Fleming has also brought out a set excellent vocal performances from her singers, too. Not everybody has equally strong pipes, but the overall effect is most satisfactory.


When this eventually returns to Jo and Professor Bhaer, as it surely must, the attraction of the novels is clear; as a story of properly endearing characters of the kind who are easy to invest in, and who you are willing to have a decent life beyond the drama’s end.

Moreover, it is to this production’s immense credit that, while old romantics might have a tear in their eye, there is not a hint of the lachrymose or saccharine about the whole evening.

A thoroughly satisfying production, with strong characterisations and some moments of pure joy in the singing, which avoids any pitfalls in the musical’s book.

Running time: two hours and 15 minutes (including one interval)
Paradise in Augustines, The Sanctuary, 41 George IV Bridge EH1 1EL (Venue
FMonday 14 – Saturday 19 August 2023
Evenings: 8pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Bare Productions links

Twitter: BareProductions
Facebook: @BareEdinburgh
Instagram: @bareproductions


The cast of Little Women. Pic: Bare Productions.



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