4 Min Read

Ferocious Affection and Teenage Spite: Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s story of four sisters balancing the tightrope between childhood and adulthood is back in vogue thanks to Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film, and it’s The Blue Room Theatre’s turn to delve into the March sisters’ struggles and triumphs in Little Women, this time with endearingly Australian accents.

I have always found the plot of Little Women a little lacklustre, and I think most fans would agree the appeal of the story lies in the characters. The ‘little women’ must be impeccably cast for an adaption to succeed and in my opinion Mel & Sal (Melanie Julien-Martial and Sally Davies) hit a home run with their five actors.

Mani Mae Gomes’ Beth is as simperingly good and infuriatingly selfless as in the novel, and despite being the tallest cast member, as far as I could tell, she shrinks down to a timid young girl shying away from the world outside her playroom. Her ability to French braid live on stage is also enviable.

Little Women by Tashi Hall

The relationship between Amy and Jo is usually the driving force of the story, but this production brings Meg to the foreground, emphasising the two eldest sisters’ love and tension. Jess Nyada Moyle perfectly captures the Big Sister Struggle to balance responsibility and being a good role model with childish desires and dreams. The ‘blueberry jam debacle’ scene showcases her good-natured petulance, and Jessica’s stubborn pout is something to be rivalled.

Move over Florence Pugh, because Amber Kitney is here and she’s got the best teenage whine of any other Amy March. Amber masterfully portrays Amy’s perversity and childish vanity, as well as her transformation into an ambitious, sensible, and likeable young woman, in a gorgeous white ruffle dress.

Little Women by Tashi Hall

Jo March is the crux of the story, and Cezera Critti-Schnaars shoulders the responsibility confidently. Her booming narration and commanding gait fill the room with her presence. Her control over the scene is made literal by the character’s interruptions to talk directly to the audience and explain how she is rewriting the play as it goes. Part of me was disappointed they didn’t attempt the scene where Jo sells her hair, but another part of me was relieved that Cezera’s beautiful thick plait was not put at risk. Instead, the way she swings it around her shoulders like a weapon and swats at flyaway hairs contributes to her distinctly Jo-like boisterousness.

The most significant adaption Mel & Sal have made to modernise the show, aside from the rave music at the local dance, is ‘queering up’ the story by gender-swapping Laurie, played gracefully by Ramiah Alcantara. I like that writer Sally Davies felt no need to address the problem of homophobia, merely writing that obstacle out of Laurie and Amy’s path the way Jo rewrites her arguments with her sisters. I found Laurie’s ‘romance’ with Jo less convincing than with Amy, which made their eventual coupling more satisfying. Ramiah’s elegance as the rich neighbour with an indecorous streak is the perfect side dish to the March sisters’ chaotic strive for morality.

Little Women by Tashi Hall 

The four March sisters have excellent chemistry, their sibling banter and desperate love for each other is painfully recognisable. There are so many funny lines made even funnier by the girls’ dramatics, my favourite of which is Jo’s swoon as she laments, disgusted at Meg’s incoming engagement, “I’m going to have to call him John.” The ferocity of their sisterly affection makes Beth’s death more beautifully sad than any other adaption I’ve seen. Her dignified exit through the back door while her sister sleeps brought my friend to tears, whereas it was Jo’s trembling denial upon waking that got me.

Mel & Sal’s production is fun and heartfelt, giving new life to an old classic that will make anyone with siblings laugh and cry, sometimes both at once.

Little Women is playing at The Blue Room Theatre from the 9th to the 27th November.