Review - The Little Big Things
Playing until 23rd September 2023
Book: Joe White
Music: Nick Butcher
Lyrics: Nick Butcher and Tom Ling
Director: Luke Sheppard
Musical Director: Laura Bangay
Based on the memoir of Henry Fraser, The Little Big Things tells the story of Henry before and after the accident that left him paralysed from the shoulders down. This story tells the impact of the incident on Henry and his family, how they must adapt to their new lives and that while this was not part of the plan, accept the things that might not have happened had the accident not take place.
Despite the fact that there is an inherent sadness in the premise of the story, The Little Big Things has a general positivity in its tone by learning to let go of what could have been and focus on what can still happen. Henry Fraser is portrayed by two actors in this production, the younger Henry before the accident (Jonny Amies) and the slightly older disabled Henry (Ed Larkin). The two Henries almost always accompany each other on stage. While Jonny’s Henry prepares for the rugby match and the subsequent holiday, Ed’s Henry narrates the story and hints at the accident to come, reflecting on what could have happened had he not gone on this holiday. After the accident, Ed’s Henry sees his younger self as a constant companion as he lives his new reality and loss of direction. This duality creates a perfect contrast of Henry’s character before and after the accident, and how the two become more aligned in thoughts as the story progresses. To further highlight the stark differences of the two, projections of black and white onto the stage to depict the complete lack of colour and a loss of self in Johnny’ Henry’s existence now that he can no longer do the things he used to be able to do. As the story progresses, the Henries start to describe the colours that go through their heads as they brush more emotions into their lives, something that is demonstrated vividly in Howard Hudson’s lighting design.
To fully appreciate this story, we must also look at the impact on Henry’s accident on his family. With the exception of Dom, Henry’s younger brother, the rest of Henry’s family feel an immense sense of guilt over the incident and what they could have done to prevent it. Although the narrative of this true story is strong and the choice to focus more on the positivity, Henry and the broader Fraser family’s struggles were brushed under the carpet too easily. For example, how hard Henry would have had to work to leave the hospital eleven months early and also how the Fraser family reconciliates after their feelings bubble over in Act II. In some cases, time skip seems to be used to hide these harder moments, which I can’t help but feel are missed opportunities to develop a more meaningful narrative.
While the story tries to explore each family member’s regrets, Henry’s mum, Fran (Linzi Hateley) is definitely the most fleshed out. Fran regrets for not intervening and went with the flow that ultimately led to the accident. Hateley wrings the heartstring of the audience through the sensational musical number “One to Seventeen”, which retells of Fran’s memory as she watched Henry grow up when she first found out the seriousness of Henry’s accident. Fran is also one of the first to help Henry accept and enjoy his new reality through a monopoly themed night out.
Agnes (Amy Trigg), a disabled physiotherapist, is a significant character that helps Henry and his family realise that despite the challenges Henry will face, this is not the end. Agnes shares her view of the world, the person she was and how her own accident helped her to go on a new path to find a job and husband she loves. Trigg’s perfect captures both the comic and emotional moments, and serves as a monumental facilitator to draw out the best of the Fraser family.
Moving onto the score of this musical, there are handful of numbers that are definite earworms. Both of Henry’s parents have a fantastically apt and sensation solo, Fran’s “One to Seventeen” previously mentioned, and Henry’s dad, Andrew’s (Alasdair Harvey) “Miles and Miles”. The title song “The Little Big Things” also serve as a perfect finale for this musical. However, there are a few that didn’t quite hit the spot. The number used to describe Henry’s accident and what actually happened did exactly what it says, describe the incident, albeit in a more abstract way, simply didn’t match the incredible and energetic spectacle of a soaring Henry. Quite a few of the songs also seem to share a similar tone and rhythm, and can make some of the numbers feel a bit “samey” when placed too close to each other.
The Little Big Things has many remarkable elements, excelling in its staging, lighting and the source material. There is an exceptional level of inclusivity in the casting and accessibility for both actors and audiences. For starters, it should be recognised both the main cast and understudies of Henry and Agnes are wheelchair users. In addition, Mark Smith, the choreographer of this production has incorporated sign language into the routines, a massive bonus for those who are hard of hearing. Building on this already very refined production, I feel his show could be further developed by fleshing out the challenges faced by the Fraser family and making parts of the score more distinctive.