Chester, UK – Despite being embarrassingly unfamiliar with Louisa May Alcott’s original text, I was excited to visit Grosvenor Park’s Open Air Theatre to watch Anna Odeke’s adaptation of Little Women.
The theater is a remarkable sight. A giant teepee-style tent adorned with fairy lights and bunting acts as the bar and box office, while the stage sits at the center of an amphitheater full of excited theatergoers. I was surprised by the lack of microphones in this production, as the actors were quite literally battling with the elements to be heard. But they did so with (seemingly) great ease, being loud but never ‘shouty.’
Despite some light rain, the performances were unimpacted by the weather.
This adaptation of Little Women is set in 1914 Chester, so the story takes place over the course of the First World War and the years following. The later period for Grosvenor Park’s production provides an opportunity for a brief – yet poignant – interaction between the March sisters and members of the suffragist movement.
I enjoyed how Jo’s dream to be a writer is right at the beginning of the play, supported and uplifted by the women around her. As Alcott was an early feminist herself, this creative reimagining felt like the kind of modernization that added to the storyline rather than disrupting it.
The four March sisters – Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth – are played to perfection by Paislie Reid, Haylie Jones, Joëlle Brabban and Holly Madigan. They demonstrate the journey of adolescence with an abundance of warmth, wit and balance in their portrayals.
Audience members with siblings were reminded of their own families, as the intricacies of Odeke’s writing captured the muti-layered nature of family interactions. The cast is completed with Samuel Awoyo as Laurie Laurence, Nicola Backman as Aunt March, Alice Keedwell as Mrs. March, Robert Maskell as Mr. Laurence and Father, Oliver Nazareth Aston as John Brooke, Eddy Payne as Mr. Bahaer and Samantha McIlwaine as Sally.
A standout scene came in Act Two, where Jo and Beth converse on their fishing trip. Reid and Madigan’s maturity as actors was evident here, as they navigated emotionally charged dialogue with performances that both filled the space but were subtle enough to convey the vulnerability of their characters in that moment.
I am never unimpressed by a Storyhouse production, and this was no exception. From the design by Jess Curtis to the overall atmosphere and incredible welcome from Storyhouse staff and volunteers, this theatrical experience was one I will remember fondly.
I encourage all who can to see one of the productions on at the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre over the summer. Besides “Little Women,” which runs through August 29, the theater is showing “Romeo and Juliet,” which closes August 28 and “Stig of the Dump,” which ends August 29.
Rosie Evans is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.