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BWW Review: LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Arcola Theatre


BWW Review: LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Arcola Theatre BWW Review: LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Arcola Theatre

Back in 2006, a small road-trip film about a dysfunctional family, the Hoovers - who set off on a trek to a children's beauty pageant - was released to audiences.

It made Volkswagen minibuses trendy again and gathered unanimous acclaim, before being turned into a musical by James Lapine and William Finn, which saw a couple of productions bearing different forms at the end of the same decade.

Now, Little Miss Sunshine premieres in Europe at the Arcola Theatre, directed by Mehmet Ergen. The artistic director introduces a feel-good show about the misfortunes of an unusual family that, regrettably, remains very basic in its presentation. He restricts the action at the very centre of the thrust stage, placing the bizarre bunch sat on the iconic van - which is, however, unrecognisable as styled into three collapsible platforms by designer David Woodhead - for a large part of the show.

Sunflower yellow permeates the auditorium. A map featuring roads that run like veins stretches across the floor and back wall to make the nature of the story visually vagrant. Brightness crowds the space as Finn's less than memorable score and lyrics accompany the Hoovers' misadventures and lead them through maxed-out credit cards and broken dreams in pursuit of the younger member of the clan's aspirations.

It's safe to say that it's the cast who altogether carry the piece. Laura Pitt-Pulford is heartening as the tired and exasperated matriarch who loves her children deeply and who's the first to suggest taking little Olive on the cross-country journey. She is paired with Gabriel Vick as her husband Richard: his fire and drive don't falter as he leads the group through thick and thin.

Paul Keating and Sev Keoshgerian form the laughably pitiful duo composed by Uncle Frank and Olive's brother Dwayne, who bond over Nietzsche and have quite a difficult relationship with life. Gary Wilmot is a bundle of energy as the brash and irreverent Grandpa, while Imelda Warren-Green unashamedly steals the scene out of the whole company's hands as Linda and Miss California.

The younger cast are delightfully cheeky. Twelve little actresses, who are mainly having their stage debut, rotate the roles of Olive and the Mean Girls who pester her subconscious, with Sophie Hartley Booth taking on the main role on press night. All in all, the core of the show comes off strongly thanks to the prowess of the actors, but one would expect slightly more originality from the creatives.

The text has been imperceptibly updated with a dash of pop culture references, but hands out a couple worrisome incidents that are simply brushed off by the director. Richard lightly fat-shames his daughter, and both parents are shocked when Olive casually (and very naturally) mentions a transgender friend of hers.

In the midst of it, these instances are forgettable, but it's certainly interesting to consider them in the context of a show that promotes beauty contests as a little girl's biggest dream and which offers a clear and defined image of women.

Little Miss Sunshine runs at Arcola Theatre until 11 May.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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