FringeReview UK 2021
Never read the book or seen the films? Not to worry, Figs in Wigs have. Well, one of them might have. But hey, it’s not about the book is it? This is 21st century, post-modern, meta theatre, female collective blah blah blah blah. That the Figs talking; that’s how they roll.
Little Wimmin was first produced in 2019 co-commissioned by HOME Manchester, ArtsDepot and Cambridge Junction with the support of Stobbs New Ideas Fund. Supported by artsdepot & Arts Council England.
Figs in Wigs are Alice Roots, Sarah Moore, Suzanna Hurst, Rachel Gammon and Rachel Porter who co-write, direct and choreograph all their work.
If, like me, you have trouble differentiating Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ – the capable one, the vain arty one, the sickly good one, the tomboy – Figs in Wigs’ latest show will help. In one of several inspired and entertaining vignettes, they distill the girls to their defining characteristics. Welcome, dancing onto the stage, wrangling Rachel Gammon’s impressive costumes, a huge nose (vain Amy) a horse (Jo) a gigantic glove (Meg) and a shroud (that’ll be Beth – who dies!)
The company has been sticking it to the man in arresting and inventive ways for over ten years with a blend of performance art, dance and theatre that has irreverence for tradition, plays to the crowd and is very much of now.
Little Wimmin is not their first adaptation (they’ve done Wind in Willows for kids) but it is an ambitious leap from the more issue or game-based work that has made them so popular with audiences. Battersea Arts Centre is brimming with bright young things, cheering before curtain up. It’s a relaxed performance in keeping with the venue’s laudable committment to access for everyone.
Narrative was never going to be the strong point here, as the startling prologue makes clear. Hovering two feet above the stage, like naughty angels in big, blowsy cotton-wool wigs (nice work Rachel Porter), the cast stake their case. They’ve read the book. It has salt and ice in it. Beth dies. Their production is about climate change and patriarchy. Or is it?
Alcott’s story is vividly condensed in a repeated scene that morphs into surrealism, heightened by Suzanna Hurst and Alicia Turner’s gothically jangling sound design. And what a scene it is. In shades of dusty, autumnal orange (block colour is a Figs trademark) the March sisters gather around the hearth to celebrate Christmas, without their precious Marmee or father. But look, a letter! They distribute their festive breakfast to the poor, of course, and lounge about doing girlish things, waiting for life to take off, or new gloves, or Beth to die. Beautifully choreographed and with perfect accents the scene plays out again and again, becoming stranger with each turn of the revolve (that horse, the family portrait). The Figs are literally taking Emma Bailey’s burnt umber set, and with it the novel, apart.
With the historical bit out of the way, the company is free to indulge its passion for ensemble dance, in crinolene hoops and dayglo orange bobs. It is an arresting look; Gene Giron’s bold lighting helps, but doesn’t shake the foundations of choreography. What really shakes is the Fig singing Piaf on a vibrating platform, with a jelly. Next is the challenge. In an earlier show the company ate peas from cocktail sticks…for hours. Now, with that nod to salt, ice and climate comes an enormous cocktail, precision made from a skyfall of limes (flown in from where I wonder) a phallic block of ice, an industrial juicer, bottles of booze and noisily slurped. Are five women drinking a gallon of strong liquour smashing the patriarchy? Perhaps not, but if Figs in Wigs have stretched the connective tissue between idea and presentation a touch too far to make a totally satisfying whole, Little Wimmin is just the Margarita – we women (and the men) need right now.