The estimable Space Arts Centre brings us this new production of Rachael Claye’s take on the classic Little Women. Set in contemporary London the transition from the original’s backdrop of the American Civil War is highly successful. The story focusses on these four strong and individual women and their mother as they deal with the ups and downs of relationships and careers in a family without a father.
As we arrive the March sisters Meg (Isabel Crowe), Jo (Amy Gough), Beth (Miranda Horn) and Amy (Stephanie Dickson) are preparing Christmas decorations in the living room of their home. Neatly set, with the audience down either side, there’s a real sense of being in the room with them, even if at times it requires a sort of Wimbledon-style head turning to follow the action from one end to the other. But there’s nothing wrong with making the audience work to engage fully with the piece.
As the sister’s develop both their work and their relationships we get to know them better and understand their wants and desires.
The men in the play are Laurie (Sean Stevenson) and his tutor, John Brooke (Joshua Stretton) and Professor Bhaer played by Jonathan Hawkins. They appear only in relation to the women but often bring tenderness and humour to proceedings in their various attempts to impress the sisters.
The direction by Sepy Baghaei is fluid and pacey. The play’s short scenes keep things moving, helped by quick and efficient placing of props by the cast. The limited lighting rig in the Space is well used by designer Andy Straw, not only highlighting the location of the action but bringing in turns warmth and chill to scenes.
The strength of both the performances and the writing is evidenced by the fact that at the time of a family tragedy the trauma and sense of loss was palpable amongst the audience in a way I’ve rarely, if ever, experienced in any theatre. We have become unexpectedly close to these people, helped significantly by being physically close to them in a way which The Space venue seems always to achieve so effortlessly. So at the end when everyone gathers round for another Christmas, the emotional impact is huge.
A real Christmas treat.