Little Women
Production Photo: Carrie Davenport

The Lyric Theatre's production of Little Women, adapted by Anne-Marie Casey and directed by Emily Foran in her Lyric Main Stage debut, might just be the adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel that I've been waiting for – a production which lives and breathes through an exploration of visual and sonic possibilities as well as intricate writing and at times impeccable acting. It genuinely recognises the potential for ennui, expression and excitement in subjective actions and moods, and does so in such a manner that the overall effect is, if you'll excuse the temporarily excessive alliteration, enlivening, entertaining and edifying – a true theatrical treat that already makes a strong case for being among the year's theatrical highlights.

In telling the seemingly-as-old-as-time tale of the famous March sisters, Jo (Marty Breen), Meg (Ruby Campbell), Beth (Maura Bird) and Amy (Tara Cush), Foran shows a keenness to express the characters' literal appeal through not only trust in her terrific cast but also expansive design work – which is where the exemplary work of costumer Gillian Lennox and set designer Tracey Lindsay, alongside Sarah Jane Shiels' lighting, Paula O'Reilly's choreography and Stuart Robinson's sound, finds real significance. There is a true sense of colour and vastness in the world created for the March family to work, play and discover themselves in – their endlessly fascinating journeys of belonging and identity are both well documented and appealingly expressed.

Production Photo: Carrie Davenport

What one first sees within the Marches, including the matriarchal Marmee (Jo Donnelly) and their aunt (Allison Harding) is a sort of burden, a appearance of responsibility that each is either attempting or being instructed to wear as carefully as possible. Difficulty soon arises when pressure not to step out of a family line aligns with a desire to make one's own choices, even if the person who wants to choose doesn't quite know what those choices are yet. From this dilemma onwards, Foran is able to draw engaging drama, frequent interjections of light comedy, and real tears from the source material's most heartbreaking moment – while ensuring that the tonal transitions are handled as smoothly as can be. Be it Jo's literary ambitions, Meg's quest for stability, Amy's adventurous nature or Beth's vulnerability, every element of Little Women compels in some way or another.

Most compelling, perhaps, is Jo's story, a challenging narrative strand given hugely complex dynamism by a truly commanding Marty Breen. Through Jo's interactions with Laurie (the impressive Cillian Lenaghan) and her discovery of a probably-more-than-kindred spirit in Professor Friedrich Bhaer (Ash Rizi, equally good), Breen impressively reflects an appearance of being stunted in both art and love, how much choice an individual may think they have over both, and how state of mind and heart can impact creations and relationships. From this, the viewer is inspired to consider and appreciate the passage of time and how it effects the other Marches. For example, one may be drawn to the story of Meg and her connection with John (Shaun Blaney), where they may find a genuine appreciation of the cornerstones of long-term love - stability, calm and trust, all of which are so easy to overlook when entranced by the popularly read and viewed drama of spontaneous, momentary attraction and will-they-or-won't-theys. One can also see this Little Women and discover a real consideration of the measures that may be taken to protect oneself both inside and outside the family - all of which are entwined with a cauldron of complex emotions that no one appears fully prepared to handle in the best way they would like. It reads like a successful exercise in evolution for everyone in not just the play but the audience - a translation of Alcott's prose into sights and sounds which transcend the allegorical and metaphorical into something poignant, heartfelt and genuinely refreshing.

Simon Fallaha

Little Women runs on the Main Stage at Belfast's Lyric Theatre until Saturday March 2. For more information, and tickets, click here.