The 1869 semi-biographical novel, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, is a staple in classic literature. The story hones in on the lives of the four March sisters and their Marmee, during a time when their father is away serving as an Army Chaplain in the Civil War.

The first musical production landed on Broadway in 2005, starring Sutton Foster as the eldest sister Jo, and enjoyed a short but sweet four-month run. There haven’t been many productions since, although the most recent professional production in the UK was at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester back in 2017.

I was honoured to see Little Women performed by Birmingham Ormiston Academy in 2015, which was my first introduction to this wonderful show and last night, I saw another fantastic interpretation by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham.

Performed by third year actors, Little Women is the perfect musical choice. Whilst these students are not training specifically in musical theatre, this show is very character driven so the acting needs to be equally as strong as the singing elements – an area in which it greatly succeeds. Lise Olson has done a wonderful job in directing the piece. I particularly enjoyed the reenactment of Jo’s short stories, intertwined with the main action.

Rob Dicks’ set design sees a threadbare wooden framework to represent the March family’s house across two levels. Two fly pieces occasionally make an appearance to represent other locations but on the whole, it is quite static. Jo Dawson’s lighting is excellent, anchored greatly by the use of backlighting a cyclorama upstage. The management of the sound was a little confusing as all actors had radio mics on but they were only used during the musical numbers. The performers were extremely competent at projecting their voices during the dialogue but the transitions between this to then being amplified, was occasionally a little clunky. However, the sound balance between vocals and the thirteen-piece band is superb.

Jason Howland’s score with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein is absolutely stunning and the band, under the leadership of Musical Director Robert Miles, perform the orchestrations with ease. The songs are incredible, although not hugely memorable after they have passed. However, they greatly anchor Allan Knee’s book in context.

What is refreshing is how much of an ensemble piece this show is. There are no leads as such and everyone compliments one another without overpowering. Eleanor Jayne Homer plays Jo who is a strong female role but ever the dreamer. She captures this perfectly and I loved her character arc across the show. The more mature roles of Marmee and Mr Laurence (played by Hayley Mitchell and Hayden Layne respectively) both impressed me vocally. Mitchell’s rendition of ‘Days Of Plenty’ is unbelievably emotive and it is a tough sing but she delivers exceptionally. Jonny Warr’s loveable and excitable interpretation of Laurie is adorable and he always makes you smile when he’s onstage. The book includes plentiful witty lines and the cast greatly impress with their comic timing, particularly lines delivered by stern Aunt March, performed by Megan McNaughton.

An emotional rollercoaster of a performance that I would relish watching again.

Little Women plays at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday 12 October.

**** Four stars

Jenny Ell