Despite being around 150 years old, Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, has never been more in the limelight. Regardless of its Oscar snubs, Greta Gerwig’s star-studded adaptation of the classic tale gained wide critical acclaim towards the end of 2019, and the year closed with Little Women being my favourite film of the year. My excitement at the prospect of seeing a musical adaptation, right on my doorstep at the University of Leeds, was therefore second-to-none.
The true beauty of this production lay with its ability to encapsulate the timelessness of the classic. With the use of a simple set (designed by Al Simpson, Talia Simmons, and Lucy Flanagan) and flawless direction, the production successfully managed to maintain the warmth of Alcott’s original characters, as well as their ability to resonate with almost anyone in the audience. (I like to think that the reason that Little Women is still such a popular story today is down to how the characters hold up a mirror to our own psyche, as external audience members.)
Leading lady, Tally Soames’, captivating portrayal of Jo March saw an internal conflict between inherent feminism and human loneliness pulsating through her performance. Her vocals were some of the best in the cast, which reinforced the vitality of her character. I could have watched her again and again.
Having been made aware of issues of illness in the cast, I was astounded by the professionalism of Joe Bennett and Eliza Jones, who took on the roles of Mr Laurence and Braxton at the last minute. However, for me, the company’s stand-out performance came from Caitlin Doyle, as Aunt March and Mrs Kirk. Having seen Doyle shine in Music Theatre’s production of The Addams Family last year, I was thrilled to see her name on the programme. Taking on two roles in one show is not a simple task, but with a cocktail of vocal and physical metamorphosis and comedic timing, Doyle perfected it.
The ensemble, made up of Emma Wilcox, Anthony Adams, Tamara Walbourn and Eliza Jones, were integral to the fun of the show. Not one person missed a beat throughout the entire performance, and they infused this with a relentless energy that had me leaving the theatre with a smile of sheer delight.
Despite being musical theatre being one of my favourite performance genres, I was sceptical about the score. There’s nothing worse than a poignant story being ruined by jazz hands and awkwardly timed ballads. However, from the first count of the conductor, the band’s flawless performance felt completely natural to the story, so much so that I’m now having difficulty remembering the tale without it. Credit has to be given to the musical director (Tom Mitchell), the musicians, and director (Kit Salter-Kay), for making everyone’s favourite story even more enjoyable.
As with most university productions, there were some unfortunate microphone mishaps. These involved quite a few cases of them not being turned off when characters left the stage. However, if I’m being completely honest, I’ve seen this result in far worse, and if anything, it simply allowed the cast to show off their professionalism. Even a fire alarm at the end of the first act didn’t manage to remove me from the trials and tribulations of the March women, which truly encapsulates just how all-encompassing and captivating this show was.
Unfortunately, Little Women’s run is now over, but if you ever find yourself with the chance to see this show in another capacity, make sure you put aside the time to do so. Oh, and it goes without saying that if you’re in Leeds, you should be in the audience for every production the LUU Musical Theatre Society put on- they’re really, really fantastic.
Words by Charlotte Bresh