ACTORS are warned never to act with children or animals. To that list must be added stuffed animals. These creatures - a selection of inanimate beasts including cats and kittens - threaten to steal scene after scene of Lip Service's version of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel.

A big fluffy kitten even adorns the programme for this irreverent treatment of the story of four sisters left at home while their father's away in the American Civil War.

It's doubtful if Alcott would recognise her novel now it's been given the same Lip Service treatment that the dynamic duo of Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding have given in the past to the Brontes in Withering Looks, King Arthur And The Knights Of The Occasional Table and the Greek tragedy known as Hector's House.

A sense of the ridiculous is all you need to enjoy the pair, whose humour is at best inspired and at worst plain silly. No entendre is left undoubled and no possible pun left unpunned.

Matthew Vaughan joins them in a cast which also includes those aforementioned animals, cardboard cut-outs, dolls and dummies. Fox and Ryding do the lion's share of the work, playing more parts than you'd think humanly possible.

Inevitably, given that they attempt a laugh a line, some bits prove funnier than others. But overall, it's a case of Very Little Women but Very Big Laughs.

* Runs until Saturday. Box office (01904) 623568

Published: 14/10/2004