“The full cast of eleven are in fine voice, supported by the rich string arrangements of the music”
Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women”, originally published in two separate volumes in the 1860s, was said to be one of the first visions of the ‘All-American Girl’. It was hailed as being ahead of its time, and as such has stood the test of time. Continuously in print, with many film and television adaptations under its belt, it finally made it into musical form at the beginning of this century, opening on Broadway in 2005. Today’s audiences might not find the scenario unduly innovative, but it is its charm and endearing representation of the multi-layered personalities that draw you into the story. And Bronagh Lagan’s staging at the Park Theatre has charm in abundance.
The ’Little Women’ are the four March sisters: Amy, Beth, Meg – and Jo steering them through the treacherous subplots of growing up. The rites of passage are brilliantly navigated here by the strong cast that give a passionate portrayal of the inevitable loss of innocence when childhood and womanhood overlap. This is also one of its only snags, though, particularly in the first half when the characters’ young ages jar slightly with the on-stage physicality. But that minor moan is swiftly swept away as we get caught in the current of song and story.
The story focuses on the sisters’ differences. Amy is the baby, yearning for sophistication that’s out of reach. Selfless Beth is timid and musical. Meg, the eldest, is the most traditional, while Jo burns with a determined passion, struggling to find her place in the world. Allan Knee’s book pushes Jo centre stage, whose fiery energy Lydia White captures marvellously, while her theatrical generosity allows the others to shine too. Mary Moore is a bundle of joy as the young Amy, Anastasia Martin is ultimately heart-breaking as the tragic Beth and Hana Ichijo deftly mixes romanticism and pragmatism of the oldest sister Meg in probably the most difficult personality to portray. Savannah Stevenson’s charisma rules the roost as the matriarchal Marmee; a compellingly watchable performance that comes into its own during her two solo numbers.
The full cast of eleven are in fine voice, supported by the rich string arrangements of the music. Whilst Jason Howland’s score never takes your breath away, the sumptuous melodies and Mindi Dickstein’s plot driving lyrics add stirring layers to the narrative. A story that is intercut with vignettes from Jo March’s mostly unpublished attempts at writing. We long for everything to work out for these far from little women, we feel the joy when it does, and our senses are tugged when it doesn’t.
The humour and the pathos are captured in equal measure. You want to laugh, and you sometimes want to cry. It doesn’t rock you to the core but on a cold evening as winter fast approaches it will certainly warm you with the glow of its captivating charm.
“Holden epitomises the hope that is so necessary at the moment, without diminishing the tragedy”
“You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative” as the classic song goes; “Don’t mess with Mister In Between”. Well, there’s no messing with Mister In Between in Jack Holden’s solo show, “Cruise”. It embraces hope and optimism with a hug that would have the Covid police reaching for their truncheons. But that’s the point. This show defies the constraints of this past year and celebrates the thrilling side effects of upheaval.
During the early months of lockdown, Holden used the opportunity to write down his reminiscences of his time as a switchboard operator at the LGBTQ+ listening service. Whether it was his initial intention, the result is a powerful, fast-paced, riveting, mesmerising monologue that is kicking the West End back into life. Hot on the heels of Russell T Davies’ “It’s A Sin” TV series, the timing is flawless, but it surpasses comparison. Holden’s research mixes humour and reverence, fact and imagination to give us the exact flavour of the lost Soho of the 1980s.
Jack is a young, twenty-two-year-old volunteer in the present-day call centre. And not particularly good at his job. He has the knack of saying the wrong things, but then again, he receives a lot of crank calls. One day, left on his own in the office, he picks up the phone and meets Michael; a ‘gay veteran’. Michael was Jack’s age in the eighties when he received the then death sentence of being diagnosed as HIV-positive. We are whisked back to that time as Holden adopts not just the character of Michael, but the many, many vibrant and vivid individuals that shared his journey. We meet drag queens, karaoke stars, life-saving and life-affirming barmaids; the delightfully camp Polari Gordon, Slutty Dave among a host of others. We care for each and every one of them, sharing their highs and lows as Holden creates them out of thin air. His performance is as fearless as his writing. Moments of loss are juxtaposed with flights of fantasy and humour; grief and tragedy rub shoulders with laughter and resolve.
But what makes this truly special is the combination of each and every component of the show coming together with breath-taking coordination. The orchestration of sound, light, movement, prose, verse, music and expression is symphonic in its virtuosity. Nik Corrall’s scaffolding set, Jai Morjaria’s stunning lighting and John Elliott and Max Pappenheim’s soundscape come together with a choreographer’s precision as Holden struts his hour upon the stage, stepping in and out of the various characters. It is far from a one man show – John Elliott’s score is a crucial presence throughout; pulsing with its hypnotic rhythms, electronic whispers and crashing waves that brings the eighties into sharp focus.
The closing lines are reminiscent of F Scott Fitzgerald’s “… so we beat on, boats against the current…” The echoes go beyond mere pastiche as the sentiments resonate with a timeless vitality. Holden epitomises the hope that is so necessary at the moment, without diminishing the tragedy. We all recognise the complex issues of survivor’s guilt, but Holden, through the character of ‘gay veteran’ Michael, coaxes it into submission and shapes it into a beautiful celebration. We are still here. Theatre is still here. And plays like “Cruise” will undoubtedly enforce that fact.