REVIEW: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women: Everyman, Cheltenham
- Credit: David Churchill Photography
Sometimes, life manages to provide just what you wanted, just when you wanted it.
‘Summer won’t be summer without a cruise or luxury all-inclusive trip abroad,’ I grumble to Ian.
‘It’s so dreadful that we’re limited to Cornwall; possibly glamping in Dartmouth,’ sighs Ian, looking at the Amazon Prime parcels he’s accidentally ordered. Again.
‘I don’t think it’s fair that we’ve redecorated three times in the past year – nothing else to do – and none of our wallpaper cost £840 a roll,’ I add, with an injured sniff.
‘We’ve got each other,’ says Ian, contentedly… ‘and no more than four other people indoors.’
…Actually, stuff this. Let’s go to the theatre.
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So we go to the Everyman, Cheltenham. First time since around 1936. And I’m so overexcited that I can’t work my Covid NHS app to scan the app-scan thing. But the nice lady says that’s OK because she can just take my details manually.
And then the programme is an app, too. And I’m so overexcited, I can’t scan the programme app-scan thing, but the nice gentleman gives me a programme he’s printed out earlier so that’s OK.
And I figure there won’t be an interval, but there is – you can pre-order drinks and they’re brought to you. Which feels overexciting.
And the seats are all socially distanced but in a way that feels completely normal after about 30 seconds. (Though it feels odd for about 29 seconds. As though you’ve gone to somewhere fairly familiar – like London – and found that Oxford Street has been removed.)
And a lady about three rows down (which is now around 10km away) hasn’t got a mask on and I almost glare at her and then remember that 194,000 people called the police to snitch on neighbours and I wasn’t one of them. And then she says, ‘Oh! I forgot my mask!’ and puts it on.
And – you know what – it feels so good to be back.
And – do you know also what?
Well, you remember those moments when you’re hot and thirsty and about to throw a hissy fit, and then an ice cream van comes round the corner.
Or you’re exhausted, and your feet hurt, and a friend just happens to pull up in a car.
Jenny Wren Productions’ Little Women is that friend holding a double Cornetto.
Oh my goodness. There are some things that are so perfect – so perfect in the moment – they make Platonic Idealism look like IKEA furniture.
Reader, I loved it. (Yes, yes. I do know that’s Jane Eyre.)
So. The action opens on an attic stage where the roof is supported by piles of books; and writing-paper falls like dust motes from the ceiling. And there, on four crates, are inscribed the names of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Meg’s is prettily scrolled in agreeable, clear writing.
Jo’s name is in plain script: it is what it is.
Beth’s is unobtrusive lettering, edging towards the crate corner.
While AMY is in capitals. NOTICE ME!
Four sisters; four completely different characters, who form the story of Alcott’s novel, as they grow up in genteel poverty, their father away fighting in the American Civil War.
Now, here’s the twist. Jenny Wren’s production has one actor – Hannah Churchill – playing all the characters. Just one actor.
And she is brilliant. Utterly stunning. Mesmerising. As Marmee, the girls’ mother, she is gentle and wise; as Amy, she embodies the unfairness of life; as Beth, she changes again – smaller and frailer and vulnerable. As the Professor, she broadens and gruffens.
And as Jo – who is ‘writing’ this story – she draws the moving, funny, ever-changing action together.
All these characters and more. It is truly an astonishing performance.
And it’s supported by Reece Webster, nominally (and sympathetically) playing Laurie, the girls’ wealthy young neighbour and love interest. But, more importantly, a talented musician who provides music that accompanies each scene (arranged and/or composed by Reece himself.)
It’s such a clever production. And like with seeing a magic trick – walking on water; or sawing someone in half – understanding the illusion doesn’t diminish it. I mean, I’m guessing that one set of scenery (the stage doesn’t change); one actor; one musician: all these elements are practical and ideal in an uncertain time.
Yet, it never once feels like that. It feels as if, even had all the world’s resources been available, this was the way the play should be written.
As director and co-writer Jenny Wicks says in the programme, ‘The idea came about during the first lockdown and has certainly kept Jenny and Hannah’s [Churchill, who also co-wrote] spirits up since then! We are so excited to share the fruits of our labours with you and we hope you enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it.’
Well, you both saw the standing ovation. How could we not.
Jenny Wren Productions is touring The Railway Children, open air, throughout summer 2021: jennywrenproductions.co.uk