Tuesday, May 28

Figs in Wigs: Little Wimmin – Southbank Centre

Pitched somewhere between anarchic performance art and chaotic high-concept mockery of theatrical and literary analysis, the Figs in Wigs’ satirical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” veers from Greek chorus, avant-garde dance to groan-ful puns and visual humour. Alcott’s work, given an unnecessarily deep and pretentious analysis of the text can, the Figs suggest with tongues stuck firmly in cheeks, be linked to climate change, astrology, the future of humankind and the patriarchy.  And cocktails. 

The five Figs in Wigs (Alice Roots, Sarah Moore, Suzanna Hurst, Rachel Gammon and Rachel Porter), rounding out the Southbank’s Women of the World Festival in recognition of International Women’s Day, give the show their all in their various roles, with impeccable choreography, performance skills and perfectly timed ironic references. Against a toxic orange set, in orange costumes and orange faces, the reworking of Alcott’s work (“Beth dies!” written in large letters above the stage) retells the story as a broad absurdist comedy that becomes ever more chaotic and surreal.  Alcott apparently without realising it inserted multiple sexual references into her story and focused on the obsessions of the March sisters. Meg wants gloves, Jo wants to be a boy and a horse, Amy has an issue with her nose. Beth dies. Then it all gets even more bonkers and surreal and chaotic, until the group convene in orange hazmat suits to make a massive Margarita. In a final demonstration of feminist teamwork, they take turns in figuratively smashing the patriarchy and solving climate change by chipping at an ice-sculpture phallus to provide ice for the cocktail.

Photo: Rosie Collins

At the outset, floating above the stage like a group of Yoda statues that hover in street-performance spaces, the Figs set out everything that will be thrown at this deconstructed reworking of a beloved classic story, mocking the very idea that works should be considered classics and revered. Yet as they do exactly what they promise, dismantling the story and challenging the tropes of theatre and literary analysis, there’s a sense of an underlying joy in Alcott’s work. Much of the performance is genuinely funny and impressive, with some very well-placed ironic references. Where they unfortunately miss the mark is that some of the skits go on, and on, and on. This may in itself be intended as a demonstration of the pretension and self-absorption of some literary and theatrical forms, but there are times when Beth’s desperately repeated hope, “Will this ever end?” feels more than apt.  

WOW – Women of the World Festival ran from 11th to 13th March at Southbank Centre, London, to mark International Women’s Day. The Figs in Wigs are touring with Little Wimmin to Cambridge, Liverpool, Lancaster and Bristol. Tickets are now on sale at:  https://www.figsinwigs.com/littlewimmin

Reviewer: Carole Gordon

Reviewed: 13th March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★