Review: Little Women

Chapterhouse Theatre's adaptation of the classic novel at Lytham Hall outdoor theatre, 18 June

Hero image

Never take advice! That’s the refrain of Louisa May Alcott’s rebellious protagonist Jo March. But if you’re thinking of heading to one of Lytham Hall’s outdoor productions this summer I’d put that aside and consider my advice to take a coat with a hood because umbrellas aren’t allowed during the action, although ours did come in handy for covering up the picnic.

Chapterhouse Theatre’s adaptation of the 1868 novel opened the summer season and the actors held their composure against the elements in an entertaining and engaging production. Writer Laura Turner has condensed the action of the expansive novel into one summer without any real cost to the story and Maisie Young did justice to Jo’s tale, which follows the second to youngest of the four March sisters as she tries to carve out her place in the world as a writer while coming to terms with the expectations on her as a young woman.

In setting out this conflict for women between domestic and familial duty and the desire for liberty and personal growth, and in its challenging of gender stereotypes, Little Women remains relevant and thought-provoking, but it’s also a depressing tale of female submission as the four March sisters submit to societal expectations and pay the price – in Beth’s case, the ultimate one. In this aspect Turner’s adaptation barely scratched the surface and the love stories and marriages served as a “happy ending” despite both Amy and Jo’s relationships being portrayed without depth. These are problems present in the text too, but the nuance went unexplored on stage. Amy’s use of Laurie as leverage for social climbing and a way out of poverty, for example, was absent from Alexandra Lansdale’s brattish and entitled interpretation. Meanwhile Marmee, who acts as counsellor and moral guide for Alcott’s Little Women, and as a virtuous example of tamed wildness, was played inconsequentially and with little presence by Rowena Gray.

 The actors’ southern American accents held up for the most part

Technically, the set was simple but effective but at Lytham Hall, where the audience slope in the wrong direction, some of the reflective scenes of conversation were hidden by the backs of other audience members’ heads as the actors sat on the stage floor. The actors’ southern American accents held up for the most part. The costumes were impressive, but the wig used after Jo sells her hair could have done with an upgrade. The use of music created filmic moments but the actors had no camera trickery or even stage lighting to rely on, making this exposed performance all the more impressive as the actors portray births, deaths and all the domestic action in between.

Chapterhouse describes this as “a story full of romance, love, passion, friendship; a story where hope will always outdo heartache and hardship if you just have the courage to follow your dreams” and in those terms it fitted the bill and was a suitable opener for a summer of theatre to be accompanied with prosecco and, hopefully, a bit of sunshine.

Little Women is touring outdoor venues including Buxton and Northallerton until 31 August ( Lytham Hall hosts Merchant of Venice, 8 July; Hound of the Baskervilles, 18 August; Pirates of Penzance, 19 August; and Doctor Dolittle, 26 August (

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Review: Little Women

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.