Review: Little Wimmin at Unity Theatre ****
When an email drops into your inbox advising the show you’re about to see contains haze, flashing lights, sudden loud music and “citrus fruit used on stage” you know you’re in for an interesting evening.
And if oranges are not the only fruit (which, it turns out, they’re not), orange, in all its tangerine/carrot/sunset glory, certainly infuses this absurdist adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s cherished classic.
I say adaptation, but Alcott’s Little Women is just a vague framework for Figs In Wigs’ Little Wimmin, an irreverent rollercoaster re-styling which starts with a spartan Christmas, upends the status quo and then re-finds it in a victoriously boozy and enamel-stripping finale.
On the way the five-strong cast send-up and celebrate Alcott’s story and live storytelling itself in equal measure, augmenting the March sisters’ individual preoccupations in an increasingly nightmarish fashion.
Proceedings start with an extended, celestial prologue where the cast – hovering above the stage street statue like and asking “is it more fun to know what's going on…or not?” - set out in deadpan fashion the parameters of their pun-filled play, appeal for allowances for its ‘gaping plot holes’ and nail their tenuous but deadly earnest themes, motifs and symbols to the (wooden) mast.
Skewering some of the preoccupations and tropes of today’s theatre and making merry with the practice of performance art, these ‘wimmin’ declare they are out to highlight climate disaster, embrace astrology and smash the patriarchy – which they do with a hammer and chisel. Look away now gents, this may make you wince.
Above and top: Figs In Wigs' Little Wimmin. Photos by Holly Revel.
The play proper opens with the four March sisters Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth indulging in some competitive yuletide hardship around the fire before skittering off in a repetitive riot of visual gags, haphazard silliness, unsettling, hangover-induced hallucinations and an off-kilter cabaret where a glove, horse, nose, corpse and tree find themselves Driving Home for Christmas.
Someone’s had far too much cheese at the neighbour’s festive buffet.
Life – and death – is here along with (orange) jelly vibrating to the strains of Edith Piaf and a frankly disturbing dance in orange skirt hoops and Purdy wigs, while in the corner a phallic ice sculpture slowly melts under a red light.
While it’s strange and silly and inspired, all this absurdity can also easily become exhausting and, occasionally, tiresome.
You can admire the cleverness of it without enjoying every moment. But you certainly won’t see anything else quite like it on a Liverpool stage this season.