REVIEW: Little Women at the Georgian Theatre Royal

Remember the name Hannah Churchill. Those hardy souls who made the snow-bound trip back home after Saturday’s outstanding production of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott certainly will.

The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond enjoyed a near two-hour tour-de-force from Churchill who played all the leading roles, accompanied only by occasional musicianship from the excellent Reece Webster.

Churchill has a rare talent as she alternated between all four sisters, plus the male roles. It should have been a daunting task, but she pulled it off, with abandon.

Playing such extended mutli-roles – can you imagine the depth of lines Churchill had to learn – could have led to confusion within the audience. Indeed, at times, you had to concentrate hard on who Churchill was playing, but it was well worth the effort for the quality of the acting. Quality that earnt a rightful standing ovation at the conclusion.

The story of ‘Little Women’ is a coming-of-age novel written in the late 1860s. It covers the lives of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy and their differing fortunes as they go from teenage-dom to womanhood.

It was semi-autobiographical as the author grew up in rural Massachusetts the second of four sisters and a tomboy. On its publication it was a huge commercial success and over the years via several Hollywood re-makes and re-takes ‘Little Women’ has certainly stood the test of time.

Without giving the story away, Alcott knew troubled times of her own as she never married, but raised her niece as her youngest sister died a month after giving birth. Much debate has gone into the play’s title – is it a reflection of the lower caste women belonged to in Victorian times, or an indication of the switch from childhood to elder childhood, in other words ‘little’ women? Whatever is the case, Alcott wrote beautifully, like an up-dated Austen.

This play has been three years in its creation as it was first drafted during lockdown in 2020. Initially performed in Cheltenham nearly two years ago, you can see the love and attention which has gone into the polished script.

Churchill, who trained at the Oxford School of Drama, handled it with a dazzling performance. She moved from character to character with exceptional ease. The voices were all separate and distinct and her enthusiasm was as compelling as it was infectious.

Alcott’s ground-breaking novel from nearly 160 years ago is alive and well.