Lobster, phallic ice sculptures, and talking Christmas trees may not immediately spring to mind when you think of Little Women… but this is perhaps fitting, as this live-art adaptation couldn’t be farther from Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel.
This latest venture from Figs in Wigs celebrates and mocks the original text in equal measure, using more art forms than is advisable, yet somehow manages to pull it off. The show’s heavy-handed use of puns, neon orange, and avant-garde comedy skits result in an exuberant, funny and winningly tongue-in-cheek show that many fans will love.
Little Wimmin opens with the five-piece floating above the audience like imperious clouds, condescendingly talking us through what the performance has in store, and spelling out for us what it all means in a 20-minute prologue. It is funny and underpins the type of literary critique the Figs are poking fun at with this show, using the most tenuous connections to create an entire analysis of the novel in a way that puts you in the mind of your GCSE English teacher. The novel is linked to climate change, astrology, and (most justifiably) the dismantling of patriarchy and capitalism, with some outlandish leaps made in an effort to get there – one of the most hilarious is the continued mistaking of Greta Gerwig for Greta Thunberg. You’re almost convinced by some of these arguments, and it is clear that Little Wimmin’s irreverence comes with a love of and appreciation for the novel.
In the second act, the real absurdity gets underway, and you are led on a fast paced journey that strays far from the original text. It opens with a scene that is true to the book – but with plenty of knowing looks to the audience as it pokes fun at its own saccharine sweetness – then soon descends into anarchy. A musical number of the cast lip-syncing to Chris Rea has the audience in stitches, as does the sisters beating at a rug, slipping in the line ‘beat the patriarchy’ with building aggression. As we are told at the beginning, time is a man-made construct, and thus nothing happens chronologically – or indeed, logically. The climactic points for each sister all happen at the same time on stage, fever dream-style. One scene is repeated three times over, so that by the third time it is swallowed whole by the verbal and visual puns relating to the obsessions of the March sisters – including Amy dressed as a gigantic walking nose.
At one point the show completely abandons the text, set, and period clothing altogether: the cast move around stage dressed in morph suits and neon skirts, leading us through dances, video clips and other scenes too brilliantly weird to describe. The dreamlike set and costumes – awash with warm, bright orange throughout – add to the absurdity of the whole affair, and it’s quite easy to forget, by the end, that this show has any link to Little Women at all. Some of these sequences work better than others – Beth’s jiggly swan song gets a huge laugh, for instance, whilst the drawn out method of mixing a giant margarita (the justification for which is too good for me to spoil for you) goes on so long that it bounces between funny and uncomfortable – something the Figs themselves seem to be aware of as they apologetically juice a litres-worth of lime juice. The awkward lengthiness of this cocktail-making scene is excused however, by the surprising satisfaction that comes from watching the March sisters smash a cock made of ice into little pieces with a hammer and chisel.
Not for the faint-hearted, Little Wimmin is a completely and utterly bizarre show that takes the piss out of theatre, literature, and above all, itself. There is method to the madness, with each element of lunacy linking in some small but persuasively clever way to the book. Charmingly self-aware, brilliantly stupid, and akin to Gerwig’s adaptation on acid, the show offers us a bold, fun, and loudly feminist take on Little Women, and is definitely worth a watch for fans who are brave enough.
Little Wimmin will be showing at HOME Manchester until Saturday 14th March. Tickets can be booked here.