Little Women

Hope Mill Theatre

Those who read Little Women as young children would be most delighted by this stage production of Louisa May Alcott’s best known work. Generally I am not a big fan of musicals, but the European premiere of this classic children’s story as a musical left me with a warm and happy feeling, even though at times there were moments of tragic sadness. We are fortunate indeed to have the opportunity on our doorstep, as usually these shows seem to premiere in the West End.

Little Women The Musical is based on Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical book published in 1868, which follows the adventures of the very charming sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy - the four March sisters. Getting to know this rather unique household with their mother at the head (as their father is away in the war as a medic) through song is a fun and lively experience. The many moments of domestic bliss and childhood innocence contrast with the sisters’ wilfulness and the moodiness and mischief of one or two sisters in particular. The sisters are seemingly close-knit, but how long before they must grow apart?

Worried about Christmas being unenjoyable and dismal due to their poverty and their father being away, the sisters decide to entertain themselves with their own creative acts and tales. Strong-minded and stormy, the second eldest daughter, Jo, is an aspiring writer, who is eagerly awaiting the publisher’s response to her manuscript, dreading another rejection. She explains her ideas for a story about “blood and guts”, but her friend, Professor Bhaer, advises Jo to write stories that are more personal, and so she does. The very dramatic Jo enjoys embroiling her reluctant sisters into her plans for an operatic Christmas special.

The stern and reprimanding Aunt March urges Jo to seek a good marriage if she wants to have power and status in society, but Jo doesn’t “give two figs for society”, so Aunt March resorts to bribing her with a proposed trip to Europe. Their stunning duet is indicative of the vibrancy and animation of the cast, whose singing is contagious. Although we enjoy the warm feelings at the story’s core, discerning members of the audience might ask questions later about the representation of gender within the book and wonder whether there are differences in how men and women of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds might interpret these gender roles. Writer and critic GK Chesterton, for example, spoke highly of the book Little Women, but felt he was a “male intruder” when reading it.

If you want a feel-good show with romances, dreams and ambitions perfectly played out and are not one to ask too many probing questions about representation of social categories, then you will most certainly be moved and entertained by the splendid performances of a bubbly and tireless cast. It’s no wonder that the cast received a standing ovation for their energetic, mesmerising performances. Testament to the show’s success is the extension of Hope Mill Theatre’s run of the show due to popular demand. Just the right treat for family, friends or co-workers the festive season.

Sadia Habib

Little Women The Musical runs until Saturday 16 December.
Image inset by Anthony Robling.