Arts & Culture
Following a sold out run in 2019, Small Island returns to the National Theatre
- 9:00 pm
28 October 2020
National Theatre, | £20-£89
Small Island is not new, but this journey between two world wars and two continents feels freshly relevant in an epic theatrical production at the National Theatre.
Andrea Levy’s 2004 novel is a vast tale of love, hope and racial identity. The detail, scope and time scale of her story-telling is immense (indeed it inspired a two part film version in 2009).
In Helen Edmundsen’s evocative stage adaptation, Small Island roars with life. Katrina Lindsay’s set is transportive and transformative, capturing the chaos of a Jamaican hurricane or the bustle of London’s West End with minimal scenery and maximum impact. Video projections, immersive soundscapes amp up the atmosphere, and immaculate costumes capture the nipped in waist and elegant millinery of the 1940’s.
Director Rufus Norris deftly balances the breadth of time and geography with the intimacy of each individual, so we feel invested in the characters’ fates. Through a lively three hours, humour stays at the forefront without ever undermining the suffering, desperation and discrimination that shades the narrative.
We experience the story from the perspective of two heroines, across two countries. First we meet Hortense, played with hoity-toity haughtiness by Leah Harvey. Brought up to believe that her light skin will guarantee a golden life, Hortense’s romantic dreams are dashed by a simpering blonde American. After her beloved Michael enlists to fight for ‘the Motherland’ as an RAF pilot, there’s little left for Hortense on the small island of Jamaica. And she decides to join forces with jovial Gilbert (a charming Gershwyn Eustace Jnr) to find a better life in Britain.
On the other side of the world in Lincolnshire, Queenie jumps at a chance to swap farming for a glamourous shop girl’s life in London. But to keep her urban freedom, she has to marry emotionally repressed, stiff upper-lipped Bernard (Andrew Rothney). Aisling Loftus plays Queenie with gumption and gusto, exuding warmth as she opens up her heart and home.
As the departure of HMS Windrush brings two cultures together the stories entwine, building a complex web of romance, resentment, ambition and bitter sacrifice.
It’s the kind of epic adventure that sucks you in and makes you gasp with each twist and turn. The National Theatre press night audience were so invested there were heckles and hollers along with all the laughter and tears.
Tickets will be on sale from Friday 13th March 2020. Visit the website to book now!
The play run from Wednesday 28th October 2020 – 1st January 2021.
More about Andrea Levy:
The unveiling of a heritage plaque in honour of Andrea Levy took place on Saturday 14th March 2020, at Twyford House, London N5 1EL, attended by Andrea’s husband Bill Mayblin, Andrea’s childhood friend Baroness Lola Young, Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn and councillors.
Andrea Levy was born in Whittington Hospital in Islington in 1956. She grew up with her family in Twyford House on the Blackstock estate, and attended the prestigious Highbury Hill Grammar School (now Highbury Fields School).
After starting to write as a hobby in her early 30’s, Andrea went on to produce some of the nation’s most celebrated and influential works exploring the lives and contributions of immigrants and working class people in the UK. Best known for her novels Small Island and The Long Song, Andrea’s work provides an insight into life in Britain from the perspective of the Windrush generation. She is considered to be one of the foremost chroniclers of the British Caribbean experience.
Andrea sadly died February 14th 2019 at the age of 62, of cancer.