Small Island at the National Theatre Online
“We want the same thing, Mr Bligh: a decent home, some work, some self-respect, some love,” says RAF veteran Gilbert (Gershwyn Eustache Jr) upon his arrival in post-war Britain. He is not alone. Several men and women of his generation abandoned their adored Jamaica in pursuit of the English dream, only to be met with angst and disappointment along the way from their Western counterparts.
There could not have been a more fitting moment for the National Theatre to stage this richly exquisite production than now. Based on Andrea Levy’s epic novel of the same name, Small Island is every bit as much of a melting pot of creativity and excellence as it is made out to be. Swinging back and forth between the Caribbean and the UK, the narrative tracks the journey of schoolteacher Hortense (Leah Harvey) and her husband Gilbert as they migrate overseas, before focusing on the tense racial environment the pair find themselves in when lodging inside the home of Lincolnshire pig farmer’s daughter Queenie (Aisling Loftus) and her serviceman husband Bernard (Andrew Rothney).
Whether depicting the characters attending a film screening, escaping air raids or sailing out to sea amid a sweeping hurricane, the creative team captures the spirit of the 1940s with integrity and warmth, leaving no stone unturned. Given the strong political message that the plot evokes, Small Island strikes gold with emotional rawness, and after a near three-hour runtime, one still feels gripped by the action. Rufus Norris has produced a labour of love with this show and it shines through, in every look, line and linger. An absolute masterpiece of an adaptation, deserving of all the accolades bestowed upon it.