Four Sisters written and directed by Safia Lamrani and Kitty Evans gave a whole new life to the story of Little Women in their powerful and modern adaptation. Performed at the Hope Theatre on the 17th of August, this play explored the inner lives of sisters Meg, Jo Beth, and Amy, and placed their concerns and lives in a modern context.
One of the great things about this play is how it did not require any prior knowledge of the story of Little Women, by broadening the audience of this show, it makes it more accessible and bridges the gap between those who may not be familiar with the classics and those who are. This is also great for those who are not a fan of period pieces, as the language used in the play was easy to understand whilst still being effective and getting the point of the play across easily.
Lamrani’s and Evan’s play delved into some of the complexities of what it is like to be a woman in the present day. Some of the themes explored include the pressure to be in a relationship in comparison to the desire to remain single, the stresses that come with being a caregiver against wanting to be independent, and the battle between whether women should live conventional lifestyles or not conforming to societal norms.
Each theme was covered with great care and didn’t shy away from portraying the conflict that can arise with each decision - especially since all the sisters were so different from one another despite growing up together. In the end this highlighted the most important factor in how women should live their lives, which I interpreted to be that we should be free to make our choices according to what we feel is best for our lives, even if it’s different from what others are doing. The complexities of familial obligation in conflict with personal choice is not a new concept, however seeing it on the stage made it impossible to ignore, and you find yourself not taking sides with any of the sisters in particular as they are all right to some degree.
The venue for the play was small and intimate and I feel that this was perfect for heightening the viewing experience. There were little distractions around and since the audience are sat near to the stage, there was no time to lose focus since the performance was right in front of you. The play was able to speak for itself and it filled the whole room, and being able to be a part of a fully engaged audience was a lovely experience.
The whole play was 50 minutes long, but I wished it was longer as I was so immersed in the story and interested in seeing what would happen with the sisters next. Despite this, the play also ended at a perfect point in the story, and it didn’t feel like anything was left unsaid or that the performance was hindered in any way. The performance built up to a large conflict between the sisters at the end, and it rounds off with a silent forgiveness and resolution between the characters which was wholesome to see.
Of course, with a play as beautiful as this one, I always want to know what the inspiration behind it was. I had a chance to speak to writers Safia Lamrani and Kitty Evans about the play a few weeks before it was performed in order to understand more deeply their motivations for the play…
What inspired you to write this play?
Evans begins by discussing how the pandemic has stunted opportunities for actors, so they “really just wanted to create something that we could be in, and that other graduates from our drama school could be in.” This is an important point that she raises, especially when we consider the fact that the arts are often forgotten about and regarded as not as ‘important’ as other sectors. She also explained how they wanted to create art that centralised women without being part of a romantic context. I can say that they did execute this very well in the play, whilst love and romance is mentioned, it’s not a central or overwhelming part of the show which was refreshing to see.
Safia in turn responded with wanting to ‘make something you want to be a part of’, and I feel this really sums up what the arts is about. Not only is art for the consumer to enjoy and witness, but it’s also for the fulfilment of the creators who take pride in what they have created. Creating art from scratch takes time and effort and you can really see when the creators have put a lot of effort into their creations from the result.
I really appreciated how they took the story of Little Women a step further and created a new life for the classic characters. With fiction, nothing is set in stone, so it’s entirely possible to create your own endings and afterthoughts for fictional works and that has what has been done here. It was nice to know that there is an alternate universe for these sisters.
Has playwriting always been something you wanted to do?
Safia confessed she had done writing before and saw writing her own works as a way of taking control of your career and using your agency. In addition to this, she touches on how it’s important to practice “all of the skills”: the work never really stops at just writing, there’s also directing and producing that must be done as well, so being able to practice all those new skills was just as important.
She mentions how she was “grateful” to be able to write Four Sisters with Kitty especially since it was such a “big task”. Watching her speak about her experience of putting the who together, it’s evident just how much it meant to both Lamrani and Evans as their faces lit up when they spoke about working with each other.
Kitty speaks of her experiences of having to create shows and art whilst at university, and how after university she realised that acting work is hard to come by, so if you want to be a part of something the solution is to create it yourself. She details how this experience was “incredibly rewarding” whilst still being “anxious about how it is going to turn out”. Nevertheless, the bond between them is still evident as she described Safia as being a “dream to work with”.
What were your favourite and least favourite parts of the playwriting process?
For Kitty, her least favourite part of the process was sharing it with others whilst they were writing it; sending it off for feedback and nervously waiting for responses from friends is not the most enjoyable feeling. This is completely understandable: sharing your work with others can leave you feeling very vulnerable, and as much as you want your work out there for others to inevitably view, it doesn’t make it any easier to share. On the contrary, her favourite aspect was their method of writing the script, which was via a collaborative google docs where they could see what the other was writing in real-time and provide instant feedback.
On a slightly different note, Safia’s least favourite aspect of the playwriting process was actually “learning to let it go” and be comfortable with letting others do the next step of the process. Safia’s point was so relatable - oftentimes, it can feel like our work is safest in our own hands and handing it to other people can be quite scary. Despite this, she also feels that her favourite part of the process was seeing the work come together and getting the other actors involved and admiring their work.
Why were you inspired by the story of Little Women specifically?
Kitty speaks of how she was inspired by the “domestic setting’ of the story as it really allows us to get to know the characters as people and admire their individuality and unique characteristics. Safia agrees and elaborates on how each of the sisters are so different from one another and this is what makes the story exciting, so it doesn’t need a “big dramatic event” as the sister’s personalities are fulfilling enough.
Stories that are softer and focus on the lives and inner workings of characters have a sense of comfortability about them that is difficult to explain, but easy to enjoy. Being able to explore the emotions of characters and see them played out in front of you provides a sense of depth that we don’t usually get when plots are centred on drama instead. Their reimagining of the sisters provides a deeper insight into the lives of the sisters that also allows the viewer to gain a new perspective on the story.