Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – until 16 December 2017
“Some things are meant to be”… Finally made my first trip to the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester’s fringe powerhouse which has been firing transfers down to London with quite the regularity. I wanted to experience the theatre for itself though and having heard great things about Little Women the Musical, didn’t want to miss out in case this is the one that doesn’t actually make its way south (although it should, it really should!).
With a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, this musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved novel is a wonderful piece of adaptation. Streamlining plot whilst simultaneously enriching character, it translates the travails of the four March sisters into a warm and witty couple of hours and naturally makes you cry just as much it gladdens the heart.
Bronagh Lagan‘s production brims with playful inventiveness, much aided by Nik Corrall’s design, but the ace up its sleeve is its casting (big credit to casting director Jane Deitch). Between them, Amie Giselle-Ward‘s Jo, Katie Marie-Carter‘s Amy, Cathy Read‘s Beth and Jemima Watling‘s Meg make up a beautiful affecting quartet, respecting the characters as written but imbuing them with fresh energy too.
So Giselle-Ward is unafraid to push Jo right to the limits of her frankly often intolerable behaviour, and locates a real pathos in learning to deal with the consequences of her impulsiveness, a beautiful study in the complexities of discovering your true self. It makes you quite understand Marie-Carter’s Amy is so spiteful and why Read’s excellent Beth has learned to become quite the peacemaker. Meanwhile, Watling’s Meg is a step removed as the eldest, especially once her swoon-worthy connection with Joel Harper-Jackson’s Mr Brooke is made.
They’re ably assisted by a tuneful and emotionally direct score from Howland (well musically directed by Rickey Long from the piano with an all-female string quartet) and considered lyrics from Dickstein that pay perfect tribute to the source material. Jo’s Act 1 closer ‘Astonishing’ is a belter of a tune in which Giselle-Ward soars and her duet with Read’s Beth, when she, you know…does what Beth does, is wonderfully played and consequently a huge tear jerker.
I also adored Tony Stansfield’s Mr Laurence as Beth melts his heart with the chirpiness of ‘Off To Massachusetts’. Lovely stuff all round and underscored with the kind of feminist message that never grows old.