Little Women

(Harvest Rain Theatre Company)


Adapted by Joanna Butler


The enduring appeal of simple lives, simply lived, is captured in Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women. First adapted as a four act play in 1912, it has lived through numerous stage and screen versions. Now the story of the March sisters and their Marmee is brought to rich imaginative life in Joanna Butler’s adaptation and production for Harvest Rain.

Joanna Butler notes in the program that “Little Women is unusual in that there is no antagonist, no master-villain. The conflict is all within; an internal struggle between desire and necessity, private inclination and moral obligation. The (inherent) values and themes…are in many ways counter-cultural to those in our society. The needs of others are valued more highly than the wants of the individual, personal flaws are examined and overcome rather than accepted or ignored, and personal integrity is prized over conforming to the expectations of others.”

Perhaps there were no Generation Ys in the audience, or if there were, perhaps they too were drawn away from self-obsession and touched by the magic as the production realised the perception. Throughout the evening that wonderful engaged silence between the performers and their capacity audience was palpable; a tribute to a dedicated and disciplined ensemble playing and mostly masterful direction, complimented by simple and effective lighting (Noel Payne) and the use of a live violinist (Briony Benjamin).

Butler has chosen a non-naturalistic, at times almost Brechtian style to convey her vision. Most actors are on the open set (Campbell Butler), most of the time. Many serve as multiple characters; as narrators; as stage hands; as dressers – even props and furniture. The chosen style and its energised choreography allow the story to develop fluidly and lucidly. By way of comment rather than criticism, I felt there were occasions (not many) when the movement dominated the drama and diminished the impact of the moment.

For one who believes that the first obligation of the actor is to be heard and understood, it was a rarely encountered pleasure to leave the theatre having heard and understood every word spoken by every performer with accent or without. It was equally a pleasure to see period costumes ‘tailored-to-measure’.

With such a balanced, engaging and honest ensemble it is almost regrettable to pay particular compliment to, or make particular comment on, individual characters and performances. However… Of those who played many parts Cameron Hurry and Norman Doyle earn special mention, especially Cameron’s John Brooke and Norman’s wonderfully understated Friedrich Bhaer. Equally effective by understatement was the still and quiet strength of Pauline Campton’s Marmee.

While Kathryn Marquet (Jo) might occasionally observe that less can be more, I am sure that had Louisa May Alcott been in the audience she would have recognised and honoured her and the other Little Women she created in the performances of Emma Grasso (Meg), Judy Hainsworth (Amy), and Tammy Weller (Beth).

In its publicity Harvest Rain claims the crown of Brisbane’s premier pro-am company. It is a crown earned and deserved.

Directed by Joanna Butler

Playing until May 12 at 7.30pm : Saturday at 2pm.

Duration : About 2 hours 30 minutes with a 20 min interval.

— Ron Finney
(Performance seen: Tue 1st May 2007)