Little Women

Written by Louisa May Alcott Adpt. by Emma Reeves

Thursday 14th to Saturday 16th November and Wednesday 20th to Saturday 23rd November at 7:30pm, plus matinees on Saturday 16th and Saturday 23rd November at 2:30

Directed by Mark Wakeman

AuthorLouisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott


Alcott was born on November 29, 1832, in Germantown, now part of Philadelphia, on her father's 33rd birthday. She was the daughter of transcendentalist and educator Amos Bronson Alcott and social worker Abby May. Louisa was the second of four daughters: Anna was the eldest; Elizabeth and May were the two youngest.

The family moved to Boston in 1838, where Bronson Alcott established an experimental school and joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Bronson's opinions on education and tough views on child-rearing shaped young Louisa's mind with a desire to achieve perfection, a goal of the transcendentalists. His attitudes towards Louisa's sometimes wild and independent behaviour, and his inability to provide for his family, sometimes created conflict between Alcott and his wife and daughters.

In 1840, after several setbacks with the school, the Alcott family moved to a rented cottage in Concord, Massachusetts. The three years they spent here were described as idyllic. In 1843, the family moved into a community, but after its collapse they were able, with a family inheritance and financial help from Emerson, to purchase a house in Concord in 1845.

Louisa's early education included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau, but she received the majority of her schooling from her strict father. She also received some instruction from writers and educators such as Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom were family friends.

Early Work

Poverty made it necessary for Louisa to go to work at an early age as an occasional teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. Due to all of these pressures, writing became a creative and emotional outlet. Her first book was Flower Fables (1849), a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As an adult, Louisa was an abolitionist and a feminist. In 1847, she and her family served as station masters on the Underground Railroad, when they housed a fugitive slave for one week. In 1848 she read and admired the "Declaration of Sentiments", advocating women's suffrage and became the first woman to register to vote in Concord in a school board election. The 1850s were hard times for the Alcotts. At one point in 1857, unable to find work and filled with such despair, Louisa contemplated suicide. In 1858, her younger sister Elizabeth died, and her older sister Anna married. This felt, to Louisa, to be a breaking up of their sisterhood.

Literary Success

In 1860, Louisa began writing for the Atlantic Monthly. When the American Civil War broke out, she served as a nurse in the Union Hospital at Georgetown, D.C., for six weeks in 1862-1863. Her letters home - revised and published in the Boston anti-slavery paper The Commonwealth - brought her first critical recognition for her observations and humour. She spoke out about the mismanagement of hospitals and the indifference and callousness of some of the surgeons she encountered. Her novel Moods (1864), based on her own experience, was also promising.

In the mid-1860s, Louisa wrote passionate, fiery novels and sensational stories under the nom de plume A. M. Barnard. Among these are A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment. She also produced wholesome stories for children and, following their positive reception, she did not generally return to creating works for adults.

Louisa became even more successful with the publication of Little Women (1868), a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood with her sisters in Concord. The story continued with Good Wives (1869), following the March sisters into adulthood and their respective marriages. Little Men (1871) detailed Jo's life at the school that she founded with her husband, and Jo's Boys (1886) completed the "March Family Saga".

In Little Women, Louisa based her heroine "Jo" on herself. But whereas Jo marries at the end of the story, Louisa remained single throughout her life. She did, however, have a romance while in Europe with a young Polish man Ladislas "Laddie" Wisniewski. Louisa identified Laddie as the model for Laurie in Little Women, and there is strong evidence this was the significant emotional relationship of her life. Though Louisa never married, she did take in her younger sister May's daughter, Louisa, after May's death in 1879 from childbed fever, caring for little "Lulu" until her death.

Little Women was well received, with critics and audiences finding it suitable for many age groups. A reviewer of Eclectic Magazine called it "the very best of books to reach the hearts of the young of any age from six to sixty".

Later Years

Alcott, along with Elizabeth Stoddard, Rebecca Harding Davis, Anne Moncure Crane, and others, were part of a group of female authors during the Gilded Age, who addressed women's issues in a modern and candid manner. Their works were, as one newspaper columnist of the period commented, "among the decided 'signs of the times'".

Louisa, who continued to write until her death, suffered chronic health problems in her later years. She died at age 55 of a stroke in Boston, on March 6, 1888, two days after her father's death. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, near Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau, on a hillside now known as "Authors' Ridge".

Adapted by Emma Reeves

Emma Reeves

Emma is a versatile writer working in adult drama, children's drama, radio and the stage. Her TV credits include The Dumping Ground, Tracy Beaker Returns, Young Dracula, Sadie J, Belonging, The Murder of Princess Diana (Lifetime Channel), Half Moon Investigations, Spirit Warriors and Doctors.

Her adaptations include Carrie's War (Lillian Baylis Theatre 2006 and West End 2009), Little Women (West End 2010) and Cool Hand Luke (West End 2011).

In 2011, Emma was nominated by the Writers' Guild for Best Children's Television Script for Tracy Beaker Returns: What You Don't Know.

In 2012, Tracy Beaker Returns won the Royal Television Society award for Best Children's Drama with Emma's nominated script Money.

PlayLittle Women

Little Women tells the classic story of the four spirited March sisters growing up in genteel poverty against the backdrop of the American Civil War that looms in the background.

Conjoined with her later classic 'Good Wives', Reeves' charming adaptation sensitively illustrates the sisters' path to maturity encompassing the many reversals of fortune in their lives.

The romantic, tragic and comic elements are flawlessly captured, successfully creating an emotional journey that tugs at the heartstrings.

The Bench Production

Little Women Poster Image

This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Jo Sophie Hoolihan
Meg Beth Evans
Amy Jessi Wilson
Beth Kirsty Terry
Mrs March Megan Green
Aunt March Ingrid Corrigan
Aunt Carole Ruth Prior
Mr March Alan Welton
Sallie Jo Gardner
Belle Claire Lyne
Laurie Stuart Reilly
Brooke Chris Vanstone
Fred Thomas Hall
Ned Paul Millington
Bhaer Dan Finch


Director Mark Wakeman
Producer David Penrose
Stage Manager Sharon Morris
Assistant Stage Managers Jen Jones, Sarah Parnell
Choir Mistress Sarah Parnell
Sound Design Jacquie Penrose
Lighting Design Thomas Hall
Lighting Operation Jaspar Utley
Sound Operation Jacquie Penrose
Costumes Di Wallsgrove
Costume team Sue Dawes, Judith Smyth, Di Coates
Set Design David Penrose
Programme Editor Derek Callam
Photography Sharman Callam

Director's notes

I find myself a little confused to be directing this production as I can quite honestly say it was something that I would never have thought I would direct. I'd always been aware of 'Little Women', not from the book but from the many film adaptations that my Mother used to watch and which I found myself bewildered by. It always seemed very talky and girly with entirely too few space battles, time travel or aliens (Seriously? Who would want to watch such a film? At least set it in a post-apocalyptic future where monkeys rule the world or something!!!!)

But as the years passed and my taste in films grew and expanded, mostly due to taking Film as my degree I found myself as the only man in a cinema full of women watching the 1990's version with Winona Ryder and finding that I rather enjoyed it. (I'm still convinced that it could be improved by an alien invasion or two but there are few films that couldn't.)

Anyone who actually reads the director's notes (If you have, come up to me and shout the word SPONG!!!! Otherwise I shall assume you have ignored my scribblings) and has seen the last two plays I directed, 'Daisy Pulls It Off' and 'Ladies Day' will know that I was searching for plays to utilise our amazing actresses and 'Little Women' was one of those I read. I enjoyed the adaptation, thought it was smart and fun and, importantly, workable on our stage but as I'd never read the book thought someone else should direct it. So I tested out a few of our other directors to see if they thought it would be worth doing. However most of them wanted to be in it rather than direct it, and as I thought it was a pretty perfect play for our November Non-Christmas Show slot I decided to give it a go.

I have been very lucky to assemble a cast of such quality and experience to bring the show to life and would like especially to welcome our three newcomers Stuart, Sophie and Kirsty and hope that this is but the start of their Bench careers. Thanks also to the rest of the cast, most of who have been directed by me before and therefore should have known better, and all those who helped backstage and behind the scenes in the various and numerous capacities.

I was very nervous to present this play to the public as so many people have said to me it's their favourite book and there was a weight of audience expectation which doesn't normally carry into a play. I've tried to be as faithful to the books as I could (Yes, I read both 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives' for research) and have done my best not to put in my usual silly jokes which I normally indulge in. There may be a few that slipped through though. One or two. But I definitely didn't put in an alien invasion. So purists will be pleased about that I'm sure.

Finally I would like to dedicate this show to my lovely Mum, who loved this story so much and who I hope, were she still with us, would have been pleased with what we've done with it.

Thank you for coming and supporting local theatre, you are vital to our survival and we are very grateful. I hope you enjoy the show.


The NewsDawn Sharpe

Bench Theatre's production of Little Women

The mixed cast of old hands coupled with a newer intake are given a lot to contend with over the nearly three hours (including interval). From unrequited love to heartbreak to that famously tear-jerking deathbed scene, it's certainly worth the price of the ticket.

And on the whole, the sweeping storyline moves along apace. On this first night there were a few teething problems; some of the accents wandered slightly and the occasional highly-charged dramatic scene didn't quite hit the mark.

But there were stand-out performances too, particularly from Jessi Wilson as a maturing Amy March, Jo Langfield as affected society friend, Sallie Gardiner and a very competent Beth Evans as sensible Meg.

Remote GoatJill Lawrie

Lovingly constructed, rich in detail

Multi-award winning Bench Theatre are currently staging Louisa May Alcott's American classic "Little Women". The inspiring tale of the four March sisters 'coming of age' set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and a period of political movement for women's equality and independence.

Each of the girls displays a different temperament struggling with their own individual situation. Meg, the oldest sibling born at a time when "to marry well" was the highest ambition for most young women, sets her sights on a comfortable married future. Second in line is tomboy Jo, forever bemoaning being born female and dreams of literary success. Poor sickly Beth is content to stay at home and emulate her parents charitable works, while the youngest Amy is determined to seek her own destiny. The play gradually unfolds from late 1862 through to 1868 and follows the March sisters emotional development through jealousy, affection, sacrifice and heartache.

Directed by Mark Wakeman and exceptionally well costumed by Di Wallsgrove, this was undoubtedly an ambitious production to stage with severe space constraints, a large cast and multi locations to portray! There were accomplished performances from the three members making their Bench debut, charismatic Stuart Reilly is impressive as the lovelorn Theodore (Laurie) Laurence, while Kirsty Terry gives a sympathetic portrayal of the vulnerable and unassuming Beth, whose life so tragically ebbs away. However the standout performance comes from Sophie Hoolihan taking the lead as highly opinionated irrepressible Jo March. Sophie is hoping to achieve a place at RADA and has already performed on TV and with the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre. She completely captures the character of the hot-headed boyish female so resolute in aiming to hold her own in a male dominated world. Good support too from Jessi Wilson (Amy) and Beth Evans (Meg).

There is much to commend in this show, with the current vogue for period drama, and it all adds up to another successful Bench production.

Production Photographs