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Little Women - Young People’s Theatre

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Newcastle’s Young People’s Theatre has a terrific reputation for indulging in productions which are undoubtably appropriate and well suited for their large demographic of young actors. It allows young performers to experience the professional theatre experience and creative outlet in it’s traditionally high energy and engaging productions. It’s latest offering in collaboration with the theatres senior school production team was no exception. In theory; this production was to have a boiling sense of passion and excitement and cosmic potential for originality that go hand in hand. Fortunately, this potential is realised on stage. Little Women professes to be a timeless and captivating story that is brought to life in this glorious musical filled with personal discovery, heartache, hope and everlasting love. Based on the Louisa May Alcott Novel, Little Women embodies the complete theatrical experience, guaranteeing a night filled with laughter, tears and a lifting of the spirit. It seemed to me that the tale of family values and the importance of building positive memories is brought to life on the YPT stage through the rich expression of emotions portrayed by each individual character. There is no doubt that the material presented in the musical takes the audience through a whirl wind of deep emotions, but this lead to an overarching revelation of a profound journey from an audience perspective just as much as that of the characters themselves.

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Despite the remarkable similarity to common stories which explore themes of love, loss and longing, the belief established from the skill of the actors made their stories two dimensional, humanistic and engaging. The American Broadway Musical (directed by Aaron Taylor) tells Louisa May Alcott’s autobiographical story of growing up during and after the Civil War in a house dominated by women was ripe for a musical makeover, its themes of sisterhood and female empowerment providing an automatic connect for women of all ages. Feisty aspiring writer Jo March — who maintains fierce loyalty and love for her family while refusing the constricting role laid out for women at that time — seems a tailor-made figure to captain a musical, inviting anthemic power ballads about making one’s mark in life. The overarching messages in Little Women were brilliantly captured in YPT’s production of Little Women most strikingly in the heartbreaking scene during Act 2 where Jo (played by Kaylia Roberson) comforts her sister Beth (played by Martha Reece) in her last moments as she surrenders to the effects of scarlet fever. The deep forlorn and dismal emotions expressed by Jo were greatly imposed on the audience, prompting tears, audible sniffling and odd mid sob – “aww”.

The production is strong, powerful, insightful and immensely moving. Roberson displays her versatile acting skills in an extremely demanding role: a youthful exuberant, witty and wildly passionate aspiring writer, Jo March. Roberson plays the outspoken head of the March sisters and does so with complete trueness to the character. Her voice gives most characterisations of Jo March a run for their money and her comic timing throughout is perfect. Roberson’s delivery of the song “Astonishing” is a particular standout moment of the show and is sung with a immense passion and her intonation and acting through song is second to none. There performance effectively pushed myself and the audience to reflect on her pursuit of independence and how it may have been perceived. Her ‘going against the grain’ and choosing her passion before worrying about what others may think is an important reminder that women, all women, have the right to choose our own path. Aaron Taylor’s lighting, like some of the sound is reminiscent of a quaint cottage bar.

Warm tones of orange and the odd spotlight tend to fill the space, transforming the otherwise simple set whilst still maintaining shadows and dimension on stage. Regrettably the ice of multi-media used to project images of date and location, serves only to distract the audience with its dull colour and blurred font due to a delay of reducing the brightness from the stage lights above. This projection was important in understanding time and place from an audience perspective but needs revision of lighting cues. The directorial decision to have the small orchestral ensemble visible to the audience made for a unique and engaging performance and seemed to credit not only the performers in having live music but all the audience for appreciation of skill and of acoustic credit in the space. This made for a warmer atmosphere and constant engagement from the audience – an overall credit to the production. Ultimately, the production successfully summoned the strength through the actors performance skills, clever lighting design and unique directorial adaptions with music to convey something engaging and emotional. The tension built throughout and we are given a story which allows us to take a journey from the perspective of an aspirational young woman in oppressive times which leads us to discover a central premise of female empowerment and independence. It is easy to see why Alcott’s story continues to resonate with young women and continues also to encourage men to empathise with the hurdles faced by many women through time and even now.

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