Of course, you can have musical theatre that is quiet, warm, with low stakes, but is undeniably charming. However, that well-known phrase in musical theatre, ‘If you can’t say it, you sing it. If you can’t sing it, you dance it’ rarely applies to this production. There is no doubt that protagonist Jo (played by Lydia White) is bursting with ideas and dreams of becoming a famous writer and travelling the world, no mean feat for a woman in 1868, but at multiple points in the musical the songs come as a ponderous afterthought, tagged onto the dramatic action that has already been acted out.
And so to the story. If you don’t know it intimately, you probably know it vaguely through cultural osmosis. The four impoverished March sisters live with their mother – lovingly nicknamed Marmee – in Massachusetts as their father serves as chaplain for the Union Army in the American Civil War. We watch the young sisters change and grow, each with distinct personalities that at times chafe against one another, but ultimately their unbreakable sisterly bond means that love abounds. Protagonist Jo wants more from life than to become a lady in fine society, and with a rebellious fire in her belly rages against anyone who disagrees with her. It gets her far in a patriarchal system that doesn’t want to budge.
Lydia White (Jo), Savannah Stevenson (Marmee), Hana Ichijo (Meg) , Anastasia Martin (Beth) and Mary Moore (Amy) in Little Women the Musical. Photo: Pamela Raith
The musical cast are capable; they all consistently project energy on the stage, but there is something lacklustre about the whole production directed by Bronagh Lagan. Ultimately this comes down to the music. It’s a soundscape where one song merges with another, there are almost no dynamic shifts, so the first song sounds like the 12th song, which sounds like the 24th song. Yes, there are 24 songs. It’s two hours and forty minutes long.
The all-female string quartet offer real verve, and it’s great to see the production has made real efforts to employ female creatives for a female-driven narrative. But the whole production feels flat. The script needs cutting, and every song needs to drive the action forward, not just a few of them. The problems lie at the heart of the pre-production process, when the creative team were constructing the book (Allan Knee), music (Jason Howland) and lyrics (Mindi Dickstein) to plot the highs and lows of the narrative.
All this being said, if you adore the story of Little Women, and are desperate for a palate cleanser from all the ills of the world, this might just be the sorbet you need.
|What||Little Women the Musical, Park Theatre review|
|Where||Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, London, N4 3JP | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Finsbury Park (underground)|
11 Nov 21 – 19 Dec 21, 7:30 PM – 10:10 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|