Ask any female writer which fictional characters they most relate to and Jo March from Little Women is sure to crop up. With her feminist attitude, feisty energy, and passion for writing, she’s a character that just aches to be translated into the modern day. Four Sisters brings Jo and her sisters into the twenty-first century with warmth and nuance, diving headfirst into family tensions and sisterly rivalry.
Written and directed by Kitty Evans and Safia Lamrani, this adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel puts the March sisters in modern day London. Meg (Evans) has moved away with her husband and spends all day prepping his lunches and knitting socks for an Etsy business. Jo (Lamrani) is an MA student and freelance journalist, trying to balance her studying and writing with caring for the girls’ grief-ridden mother. Beth (Olivia Denton) and Amy (Pippa Walton) live together: the former paints and smokes cigarettes and has her uni friends over until 2am, while the latter leads a quieter life, playing music and studying Business. Four Sisters takes place over the course of a weekend as the sisters’ stay with Beth and Amy for Beth’s birthday; however, a few drinks bring out formerly unspoken conflicts and life-long resentments.
What I love most about this production is that it feels distinctly current without being about the pandemic, politics, or technology. Instead, its relevance comes from little relatable details about the sisters’ lives, the way they speak to each other, and their living situations. Evans and Lamrani do an excellent job of keeping each character distinctive and easily recognisable from the source novel, while still creating four women that feel like they belong in 2021. The relationships between the sisters expose the kinds of messy conflicts that can be found not only between siblings, but in all sorts of friendships and relationships, and the emotional climax of the play – an argument between Jo and the others about their mother – changes the atmosphere of the whole room and is almost difficult to watch. This contrasts really well with a dance scene to ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, complete with colourful lighting, that brings the theatre to life and efficiently tells us a lot about the characters through their movements.
The play’s very short time-frame in comparison to the novel allows tensions to rise gradually in a way that’s hugely effective, but also means some of the emotional weight of the original story is missing: there’s no hint of key events like Beth’s illness and death, which feel essential to the fabric of Little Women. However, the performances mean we grow to root for these characters very quickly: Lamrani’s Jo March in particular steals the show with a snarky wit, a hidden vulnerability, and a sharp bitterness.
Pub theatres are tricky to get right: in many ways, this production is suited perfectly to its venue due to the sense of intimacy and claustrophobia. However, sitting in the second row I am unable to see multiple key moments. The show uses props cleverly – Amy’s paintings, plant pots, a music box – but these in particular are tricky to see properly. Perhaps this show would’ve worked better in a different layout, or with slightly different blocking.
Four Sisters is an intimate, warm show that showcases the relationships, fears, and talent of young women in the present. Despite this production’s small scale, it seems like Evans and Lamrani’s deft awareness of language, tone, and character could lead them on to big things in the future.
Four Sisters is playing at The Hope Theatre until 19th August 2021. For more information and tickets, see The Hope Theatre website.