Helen Edmundson adapts the late Andrea Levy’s adored novel for the National Theatre stage. Directed by Rufus Norris, the epic three-hour narrative is a triumph. The story follows those that were affected by Empire Windrush, the Second World War and British colonialisation, and is told by a company of 40 on the Olivier stage.
Three intertwining narratives are combined; Hortense (Leah Harvey) wishes to leave rural Jamaica, Queenie (Aisling Loftus) wants to escape her Lincolnshire roots,and Gilbert (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) has the hopes to become a lawyer. It’s a story of determination, struggle and human history – told through a blend of text, movement, song and projection.
Norris’ production spares no expense; the design is exceptional. Clearly there’s been a lot of money and time spent on the project, but everything works together seamlessly. Jon Driscoll’s projections are huge and dominate the stage. Combined with Paul Anderson’s lighting, shadows are created and stories are told through the silent medium.
Edmundson’s text is just as interesting and keeps you entertained. She has taken Levy’s well-loved book and turned it into a 3+ hour performance masterpiece. There’s lots of big themes, as the play details the historical racism and sexism that occurred during those times.
The entire cast are outstanding; the whole company work together to keep the stage full of life. In particular Harvey is wonderful and it’s a joy to see her career go from strength to strength. She perfectly encapsulates Hortense’s grit and strength through the turmoil. Loftus is just as strong, proving that the working-class are equally resilient. They’re both also very funny.
Britain was seen as the place of sanctuary and safety for people, but was that a huge lie? Were we really that welcoming; did we actually want to share our resources? There’s lots of questions being asked here, as well as an important reminder of our messy history.
The aesthetics are all there – so is the enthusiasm. This could be one of the most exciting Oliver Stage productions of recent years. 4/5
Review written by Alistair Wilkinson.
Small Island is currently showing at the National Theatre until Saturday 10th August 2019. To find out more about the production, visit here…