Paul Johnson | 29 Feb 2012 20:16pm
Little Women is a literary classic by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) which follows the lives of four sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March – and is loosely based on the author’s childhood experiences in New England during the American Civil War.
It has since been dramatised in at least four films of note, two TV series, an opera and a musical version.
Epsom Players opted for a fairly recent stage revival by Wrexham based playwright Emma Reeves which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999 and enjoyed a three-month spell in the West End in 2004 at the Duchess Theatre.
Whilst not the musical version – the production did include some choral singing from the company which was more than enough to demonstrate there were some excellent voices on display and it would have been interesting to see how the cast would have performed the musical version. Perhaps another day ?
What it did do though was to give an excellent opportunity for the Epsom Players to demonstrate their acting skills and there were plenty on display.
I thought the show was brilliantly cast by director Damien de Roche. Without wishing to sound clichéd every member of the production added to the overall quality and worked well as a company – developing the story and portraying the quintessential charm of the material. It would have been hard to imagine how better it could have been cast.
The production was staged in the round(ish) confines of the Myers and although the performance area was obviously limited it didn’t in anyway compromise the quality of the performance and the action flowed – aided by basic set and props.
Some of the scene changes lagged slightly and might have benefitted from a little instrumental music for continuity reasons.
We were soon introduced to the four March sisters and their contrasting characters were immediately and successfully apparent. The four girls made a very believable family complete with love, affection and of course squabbles !
Judged by the programme notes Imogen Smart-Steel has had limited stage experience and it’s too her credit that she handled such a demanding role (Jo) with aplomb. It would have been easy to overcook the ‘tomboyishness’ but I thought Imogen carried it off well with a feisty interpretation.
Amy de Roche once again demonstrated her tremendous versatility as an actress with a compelling performance of her namesake Amy – a troublemaker who is prone to tantrums and the youngest of the March sisters. A stroppy performance in the nicest possible way.
Sophie Toyer played Meg “the elder romantic sister” with authority mixed with nice levels of vulnerability. She looked completely right for the part but I just noted a couple of projection issues which should be looked at but they were fairly isolated and it didn’t detract from a very promising characterisation.
Saskia Wilkinson played Beth March and was making her debut for Epsom Players. Playing shy parts can be hard but Saskia gave a charming performance, suitably timid but interacting especially well with her sisters.
Clare Holloway made an excitable Sallie and combined with Jade Hamilton and Lisa Clayton all handled their respective cameo roles with strength.
My one and only criticism of the acting was there were a few humorous lines (from different characters) where the humour was slightly overplayed for the laughs. You had more than enough talent for this not to be necessary and the humour would have come over just as well and more naturally by playing slightly straighter.
Costumes were very good, sound spot on and lighting generally excellent. There were a couple of times I thought there was a little too much spill but I accept it’s very tough assignment in such a small space.
The length of the rehearsal period isn’t normally a factor I would take into account when reviewing shows. After all, the audience only judge you based on the performance put on in front of them. However, I note from the programme that your rehearsal period was just over four weeks which was truly remarkable given the sheer amount of dialogue. It’s certainly testament to show what can be done very quickly with commitment and hard work and modelled on professional productions which are put together quickly on the basis that rehearsal time is expensive.
Damien’s direction was superb – making the most of the space, sharing the action equally between the two ‘halves’ of the audience and to absorb us all so deeply in the story and its characters.
One area of concern, which I accept is not your responsibility, was the incredible heat inside the theatre. It was a hot night and in an enclosed space like the Myers the audience are always going to experience the same ‘under the lights’ temperatures as the performers but I really think theatre management has an obligation to do more for the comfort of patrons – particularly for the high rental charges levied for the space. The longer term solution I guess would be (better) air conditioning but as a temporary measure it got better after the interval after a few windows were opened however the first act was stifling.
The programme was basic but more than adequate with all the requisite information. Always good to read director’s notes and again you are to be congratulated for the pro-active cross promotion of other shows in the area by other groups.
Thank you again for the invite to Little Women and I wish you good luck with your next production of Oklahoma! in the main house. Apologies for the delay in getting the review to you.
Your Little Women show week coincided with the Derby meeting up the road on the Downs. The big race, the Derby was won by Pour Moi. It’s safe to say Little Women worked pour moi too!
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- : 01/06/2011