‘I want to do something splendid… something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.’
– Jo March, Little Women
It is this vivacity and exuberance that the Just So Society brought to life during their three-day run of a musical adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic. An avid reader of the novel and a fan of the 1994 film, I was ecstatic to learn that St Andrew’s talented thespians would be performing it live in wee St Andrews.
Following the lives, struggles and joys of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – the brilliant cast and crew made the audience laugh and cry in equal measure. From Mhairi Claire Lynch’s heart-warming embodiment of the March family matriarch Marmee to Alex Schelleken’s hilarious antics as Laurie, the girls’ neighbour and family friend, Little Women was an incredible night out for theatre-goers.
The musical began by enacting one of Jo, the wildest March sister’s, latest novels, introducing audiences to her imagination and creativity and setting the tone for the rest of the play. Mackenzie Pinkin completely stole the show as the spirited and vibrant Jo, endearing her to audiences with her humour and tender loyalty to her family as well as her sensational renditions of the musical numbers. Dialogue was interspersed with a wide range of musical numbers, punctuating the major milestones in the lives the March sisters; from Meg’s courtship with Laurie’s tutor John and Jo’s struggles to be taken seriously as a female in the social and political context of the time to (spoiler alert!) Beth’s tragic passing. While performed live by an immensely talented student band, the musical numbers were sometimes excessive, detracting from some essential characterisation and preventing the development of relationships between some characters, such as Jo and Laurie, for example. Moreover, the backing music sometimes drowning out cast’s singing.
Opting for a simple layout, set designer Eleanor Clyburn chose a set of homely, well-loved comfortable sofas on the floor between the stage and the seats. As the black curtains pulled away, they revealed a raised platform that served as a hallway and an attic space with a keyboard. The creation of three levels brilliantly maximised the space inside The Stage, a theatrical venue more commonly known as Club 601, and served as the perfect backdrop for the various scenes enacted on stage.
In addition to the carefully planned-out staging, the wonderful costumes transported audiences to Concord, Boston in the late 1800s. From Jo’s unconventional trousers to Meg’s beautiful ball gown, audiences enjoyed a true feel of Bostonian society.
Overall, the stellar cast, from the major characters to their supporting actors, made for a memorable night. From actors, costume designers and tech staff to musicians, singers and the prop department, Little Women The Musical was an incredible example of the immense talent and dedication of students at the University of St Andrews. It is definitely worth keeping an eye out for future performances crafted by the Just So Society.