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Brighton Fringe 2024

Little Women

Brighton Little Theatre

Genre: Adaptation, Biographical Drama, Drama, Fringe Theatre, Historical, Live Music, Theatre

Venue: Brighton Little Theatre


Low Down

“How can you have Christmas without Christmas presents?” Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women faithfully adapted by Kevin H Cunningham arrives at Brighton Little Theatre, directed by Nettie Sheridan till May 11th.

There’s heartbreak and joy here. If you don’t know it, be surprised and moved at this hidden fringe gem, realised by this team in delicately-cut facets.


Directed by Nettie Sheridan, Assistant Director Joanna Ackroyd, Stage Manager Bradley Coffey

Set Design and Construction and Decoration Steven Adams, Set Construction & Painting Tom Williams, Alison Williams,  Leigh Ward, the Cast & Crew

Lighting Design, Lighting & Sound Operation Richard Harvey, Marcus Harvey

Sound Design Gary Cook, Properties Claire Prater

Costumes Glenys Stuart, Bradley Coffey, Nettie Sheridan, Wigs Patti Griffiths, Photography Miles Davies

Special Thanks to Beverley Grover, Gladrags, Milla Hills & Southwick Players, Brighton Theatre Royal

Till May 11th


“How can you have Christmas without Christmas presents?” Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women faithfully adapted by Kevin H Cunningham arrives at Brighton Little Theatre, directed by Nettie Sheridan till May 11th.

This is the gentlest firecracker imaginable, and as you’d expect with this theatre and director, worth seeing without fireworks of festival or fringe. Taking two hours 20, it’s satisfyingly full-length too. A warm glow of a production, it features four of last year’s magnificent Brontë cast, several seen here recently.

The story’s framed around the real author looking slant at her lightly fictionalised self and siblings, from 1861-66: in and around Boston during the American Civil War, father away in the army. Latterly, sisters spread wings as far as New York, and Paris – flagged by projections in the second act.

Louisa (Lu) May Alcott (Claire Chateauneuf) has written shabby shockers for too long. Her dollar-scenting publisher Thomas Niles (Alex Blyth), cajoles a writer he senses can deliver. Niles suggests an equivalent to those coming-of-age male books: Alcott seizes on this to create a genre.

Chateauneuf’s Alcott possesses the narrow agency of interacting just with her publisher, from 1868-71, urged on to create. Her response is defiantly: “A simple book, with no ‘ideas’ in it, only facts, and the people shall be as ordinary as possible.” Shabby shockers shift to shabby-genteel, not-quite-managing.

Chateauneuf’s Alcott is visibly exhausted by her publisher’s demands too; latterly ill. And latterly too in Alcott’s sequel, Niles demands romantic endings Alcott battles against.

It’s Alcott’s original insight that creates a genre. Sheridan’s chosen Cunningham’s version as most faithful, further stripping faithfully-rendered sentimentality; but its revolutionary element stands taller because of it. Chateauneuf’s Alcott is exhausted, can only comment on the action she invokes from her time-bubble.

Alcott’s fictional self is tomboyish second daughter Jo March (Polly Jones), a girl men smile at as ‘fiery’ though not as explosive as next sibling Amy March (Ella Jay). Jay turns the volume up even more than you’d expect, but dials down fury to exuberant young womanhood in Paris and after.

Jones depicts the daughter who learns most, notably to forgive Amy a terrible act. Jones registers fury, tenderness and forgiveness as well as defending her own agency when men call. Hers is the role stepping from her default character, as others constellate.

But each actor registers change. Eldest, sweet-natured, beautiful Meg March (Grace Vincent) blossoms into a moral leader whose example’s modelled on their mother, impossibly saintly ‘Marmee’ (Joanna Ackroyd, also assistant director) who at one point confesses her temper’s really as bad as Jo’s: she’s not like Meg at all.

It’ a telling moment as Ackroyd radiates charity and warm restraint, Alcott’s key insight. It’s telling, a self-repression we wouldn’t condone. And would you now donate your Christmas breakfast to an ailing family? If starving, perhaps.

Vincent’s gentleness needs challenging: Jones, nearest in empathy if not temper proves an ideal foil as their chemistry elicits confidences and teasing.

Blyth is also elderly Mr Laurence, ferocious-seeming but gentle, whose greatest interaction lies with grandson handsome, privileged ‘Laurie’ Laurence (Daniel Carr, a winning performance, ardent, baffled, generously spontaneous) whose recurring addresses paid to Jo pay off in a way neither predict. Jo refuses a man whose temper she declares as bad as hers. There’s little space for Carr to depict this: save a penultimate scene where petulance takes free rein.

Mr Laurence soon realises that youngest, shyest daughter Beth March (Lois Regan) is intensely musical. First she’s persuaded to recondition his grand piano by playing it (a Chopin Nocturne, though musical synching would be better faded before Regan rises, even if this mode is consciously chosen). Later he donates an upright (a neat prop both writing-desk and revealing a keyboard).

Regan’s performance is beautifully restrained, as she turns like a moral compass quivering with an internal dynamic just out of reach of the world. Regan owns a radiance that makes you ache, and after a dangerous illness caught from nursing a child who dies in her arms, her bleak look of illness matches Chateaneuf’s, achieved in her case with makeup too.

Kate Peltzer Dunn’s two roles contrast: common-sense firm-but-warm Irish maid Hannah, and magnificently waspish Aunt March, relative on holiday from hell, who takes Amy over elder Jo to holiday in Paris with. Which proves life-changing.

One object of Aunt’s scorn is honest-but-poor scholar John Brooke Rocco Biancardi, keen on Meg – delightful banter between Vincent and Jones here, as well as bashful Vincent and Biancardi, who deftly pulls off awkwardness and proto-nerdiness with transparent sincerity. Again Peltzer Dunn’s intervention proves counter-intuitive impelling the result she doesn’t want. Indeed no-one predicts it.

As neighbour Mr Davis, and visiting Dr Bangs Neil Drew telegraphs types, but his chief role is German scholar and Jo’s stern friend in New York, Friedrich Bhaer. Denied Paris, Jo works there, takes German lessons, writing her ‘shockers’. Her inward lesson comes as wearing a foolscap against rain, made of a penny-dreadful newspaper with (unknown to him) Jo’s sensational writing on it, Bhaer rails against such trash. Drew’s adroitly-accented Bhaer thinks the daughter to be married is Jo, setting up confusions which Jo hopes to be in time to avert.

Steven Adams’ set is as ever luminously purposed: a window stage-left glows colours, winter trees spiking outside (once an Atkinson Grimshaw green) in Richard Harvey’s lighting design, deftly focused and softly penetrating at the right moments. The set with two exits, is ingeniously created so the bed space nestles under a wall for projections in the second act. Props by Claire Prater include piano, that writing-desk upright, bookshelves opposite; New England’s pervasively evocative.

Gary Cook’s sound (piano and elemental weather), often dark-hued costumes by Glenys Stuart, Bradley Coffey, Nettie Sheridan, and Patti Griffiths’ wigs (never more needed, as the plot proves) are exemplary BLT standard.

There’s heartbreak and joy here. If you don’t know it, be surprised and moved at this hidden fringe gem, realised by this team in delicately-cut facets.