Adapted by Anne Odeke, from the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Grosvenor Open Air Theatre, Chester
July 17-August 29, 2022; 2hr 20min
There are countless reasons why Louisa May Alcott's original story captured the imagination of so many. Being a timeless classic, the question is whether this familial saga translates well when updated.
It is difficult to transfer a much-loved story to the stage. The interactions within the family are complex and reflect the bittersweet nature of life. The play portrays the grief felt with the loss of Beth to scarlet fever thoughtfully, and the narrative makes clear the importance of love and conscience in a challenging world. Even so, this remains a feelgood story with a happy ending.
Anne Odeke’s adaptation stays true to the character of the story and translates it nicely from USA in 1860 to Chester in 1914. The company threw itself into this performance (seen at a preview before the official opening night), despite it being high noon on the hottest day of the year so far. It cannot be easy acting in full Army gear or several layers of clothing in temperatures exceeding 30 degrees in the shade.
Directed by Natasha Rickman, the play picks out the different characters of the four sisters, Meg (Haylie Jones), Jo (Paislie Reid), Beth (Molly Madigan) and Amy (Joelle Brabban) and depicts their squabbling rivalry, sacrificial helpfulness and hopeful encouragement rather well.
Set between 1914 and 1918, the adaptation references the Suffragette movement, highlights the problems of shellshock and rails against discrimination, yet these issues remain peripheral as the family dramas play out. I'd have preferred to see more focus on them, finding the narrative otherwise a little slow-moving at times.
But at this performance cast held the attention of the audience, which was no easy task given the weather, and played on despite the distraction of a person who fainted in the heat. The stewards, mindful of the conditions, distributed free ice lollies in the interval and made plenty of water available; it was good to see such consideration.
If this book is one of your favourites, you will certainly enjoy its portrayal in the open air in Chester - even if you have to pay for your own lolly.
Tickets and information here