REVIEW:NT@home – Small Island

Brian Butler June 19, 2020

Andrea Levy’s timely novel Small Island is brought sympathetically  to the stage in this 2019 knock-out adaptation by playwright Helen Edmundson. This years Windrush Day is Monday 22nd June and celebrated the 71st anniversary of the Windrush migration. Learn more here: 

Director Rufus Norris  does full justice to its epic proportions which move from small, squalid London lodgings to the freer, more expansive landscape of Jamaica and back.

Though a lot of its character development and storyline is based on Levy’s own life, much of it is not, and the story weaves fact and fiction perfectly. The coincidental meetings of the main characters are initially a little far-fetched but the inevitability of the fates bringing the four main people together creates pathos, irony and always keeps our interest.

As Hortense, the aspirational Kingston teacher’s assistant Leah Harvey is at once engaging, prissy, determined and sadly over-ambitious.

Seeing her only escape to England is a marriage of convenience , she seizes the opportunity, surprisingly and viciously  thwarting the chances of another teacher’s freedom.

C J Beckford is charismatic, but  ultimately dishonest and disappointing  as Hortense’s cousin Michael,  the  love of her life.

Andrew Rothney as a very very boring bank clerk, turns out to be a largely good man, except for the great blot of his calculating racism , which is shocking to hear.

Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Gilbert, starts as a feckless opportunist, but develops into a caring, thoughtful and generous soul.

Aisling Loftus gives a towering performance as the resilient Queenie, who puts up with Bernard, finds love in all the wrong places and ultimately makes a huge sacrifice for what she believes to be right.

Across its 3 hours, it’s a play that charts hopes and fears, a vibrant culture, a false picture of the motherland, England, but ultimately shows us dignity, self-respect and a will to succeed that overcomes the prejudice and hatred, which the Black Lives Matter protests are reminding us still exists some 70 years after the Windrush families docked at Tilbury, with all their high hopes and faith.

Small Island is available on YouTube until Thurs 25 June . If you watch  please donate to bring live  theatre back soon. You can watch it here: