Review: Little Wimmin (Southbank Centre)

This is so far from being the Little Women we all know and love that you have to put any prior expectations at the door.

Show creators Figs in Wigs are entertainers. Clowns, comics, and cynics. As they explain in Act One of their show (just thirty minutes long, before an interval), they see issues in Louisa May Alcott’s novel from climate change (“recently Greta Thunberg directed an adaptation”), the patriarchy, and astrology.

They remind us of the March sisters and their hangups, of Amy’s fall through the ice and collection of limes, of Jo’s boyishness and lost book. All this while wearing bizarre white wigs and perched on a cloud.

Production image from Little Wimmin

After the break, we start with a blaring “Beth Dies” spoiler. The March girls are in their crinolines, simpering for Marmee, sad to give up their breakfast. So far, so classic.

Where Little Wimmin becomes a riotous, fevered, nightmare is after the party at the Laurences. Staggering in drunk, the sisters soon descend to the savage, highlighting Meg’s maternal instincts, Jo’s charity, Amy’s pevishness, and Beth’s plain poor health.

The audience lap it up, with laughter and applause. Figs in Wigs – a five-piece comprising Alice Roots, Sarah Moore, Suzanna Hurst, Rachel Gammon and Rachel Porter – are fearlessly feminist, delightfully daft, and totally unhinged.

Production image from Little Wimmin

Who knew the March sisters were able to do interpretive dance so ineptly, or would delight in smashing a phallic ice sculpture to smitheeens after “beating the patriarchy” out of a rug? (‘No men were harmed or paid’, we are assured in the freesheet).

From a scene-stealing Christmas tree moving from boredom to lip-synching “Driving Home For Christmas” (surely highlighting Mr March’s eventual return home); and intriguing use of a vibration plate and lime juicer, this adaptation doesn’t just wander from the story, it sprints.

There are moments where the story comes back – a montage of Jos gone by on film (Kate! June! Winona!) overlaid with snow and ice is both funny and nostalgic – but it’s really about smashing the male gaze then mixing and downing a huge glass of margarita.

Little Wimmin played as part of the WOW (Women at the World) Festival at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, and now embarks on tour – details here.

Figs in Wigs are curating Camden People’s Theatre’s Calm Down, Dead festival in May-June 2022.

Image credit: Rosie Collins