Little Women is Louisa May Alcott’s best known work, both in its country of origin (the US) and here in the UK. It tells the story of four sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March – who are living in Massachusetts during the American civil war. Alcott explores the positivity and optimism which each sister shows, even though their father won’t be home for Christmas and they’re surrounded by snobs who gently mock their dresses, hair, and mannerisms. Although the story nominally focuses on all four sisters, it often centres around Jo, the second oldest and arguably most interesting.
Shoots Theatre take Jo’s narration to the extreme, choosing to make her the driving force behind most scenes. And this gamble pays off, because Ruth Hutton is a really incredible driving force. She manages to exemplify the best parts of Jo – her enthusiasm, passion, and loyalty – while still showing the shortcomings that all of us can relate to. Jo isn’t always the most likeable of the sisters, but Hutton crafts a very sympathetic character throughout the course of the play. It also emphasises the attitude towards women at the time (and which sometimes prevails today), and Jo’s attempts to subvert them.
The rest of the cast, meanwhile, create an excellent backdrop for Jo’s story to flourish against. From energetic Laurie and his rich-boy whims (Jamie Duffy), to the inimitable Aunt March (Suzanne Vaughan-Spencer), they manage to strike the balance between humorous and melancholic perfectly. The Broadway aspect of this play is also executed very well, with Ross Hamilton effortlessly transitioning between songs and setting the mood for each scene.
Shoots Theatre’s only shortcoming in their iteration of Little Women is perhaps that it fails to really let the other sisters shine. Although they can often be reduced down to their stereotypes, there are some nice scenes from the book which would add more to their characters – scenes which the play either skims over, or skips completely.
However, this is a relatively minor complaint. And fundamentally, Shoots Theatre recognises what other companies may forget – that the story is primarily about Jo, and her struggles with love, adulthood, and recognition in a male dominated world.