And there they all are on the programme cover: hot headed Jo, thoughtful Meg, quiet Beth at her beloved piano, and spoilt brat Amy…wait a minute – it’s the same actress, Hannah Churchill. And what fun she has playing every character, and how extremely well she does it.
But you’ll never guess when it was created; oh ok, you probably will since Jo is stuck in her attic, struggling to write. And we’re in the studio, on quite frankly not very comfortable seats with a howling gale rocking the building and tumultuous rain drilling the roof. Not the only things with which our heroine has to contend; it does get confusing at times, and a little contrived because it can be distracting as she has to rapidly change positions, up and down by the minute, to try and make it abundantly clear which sister is doing the talking, particularly tricky when it’s two of them. However, actually a little easier when all four have their say: in front of the stage are labeled boxes so you know from her position which sister is it, so to speak.
A very crowded stage evokes the claustrophobic room, as does the sort of wooden goalpost at the rear, leaning forward to suggest the eaves. Paper everywhere, with a piano stage right, but occasionally it was difficult to see the whole thing, to get the whole picture. After the interval, the first half having ended with the focus on poor sickly Beth, the second opens by contrast in a quite unexpected fashion with a lively musical piece (‘Spotted Pony’?) which has Jo springing up to dance, jigging around all over the place, almost perilously so.
The play having begun with her deciding, like all true scribes, to write about what she knows, and Alcott’s book is of course autobiographical, once the talented Reece Webster (actor and composer) turns up to play Laurie – and the piano, this enables her to narrate everything to him, and of course, us. That said, almost a sense of déjà vu when she is portraying him, and then Herr Bhaer does not come over that sympathetically. He’s no oil painting anyway in the author’s description but overall, appears more of a gruff buffoon than a love interest.
To be picky, Aunt March is shown as a typical grumpy old woman hence a cliché, Marmee, the epitome of a wise and wonderful mother, appears rather patronising perhaps because she speaks so very slowly, while Meg and Beth, both rather subdued with little to say, are almost interchangeable, though the scenes about the latter’s sickness and demise are excellently done. But Jo come to life so vividly and energetically, and there’s a very close second from Amy, who is given free rein with her colourful, self-centred monologues (it’s still a mystery to me and maybe many others, how come Laurie actually went and married her).
An intriguing experiment with such a familiar tale, it was received with delight by an audience of all ages. https://www.theatrclwyd.com/
Reviewer: Carole Baldock
Reviewed: 22nd March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★