Review Round Up: Small Island, National Theatre

Love London Love Culture rounds up the reviews for Helen Edmundson’s stage adaptation of Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning novel.


Broadway World: **** “This is a stirring spectacle that never loses sight of the people at its heart, and an important national story told with all the resources, heart and boundless creativity of our national theatre.”

The Guardian: ***** “From an aesthetic standpoint, there may be better plays this year. But, in showing how aspiring Jamaicans left one small island to land in another of diminished hopes, it will surely rank as one of the most important.”

Time Out: **** “a ferociously entertaining three hours of theatre, told with the sort of overwhelming resources only the National can marshal. It’s the sort of show the Olivier was built for.”

The Stage: *** “It is a shame then that – despite some excellent performances – Rufus Norris’ production is so often tone-deaf. It frequently centres whiteness in a story about blackness and perpetuates lazy stereotypes about black people and Jamaican culture. Edmundson’s adaptation handles the backstory of Queenie, the white British landlady, with nuance and care, while elements of Hortense’s narrative are reduced to caricature. The way Norris uses humour also feels, at best, ill-informed.”

Evening Standard: **** “Director Rufus Norris strikes a balance between moments of fragile intimacy and scenes of sweeping breadth. In the end this is a passionate engagement with the past that’s sure to resonate with audiences at a time when the very idea of Britain is under such fierce scrutiny.”

Exeunt Magazine: “Small Island is a sympathetic and accurate representation of racism then, which feeds into racism now: it’s funny, moving, and extremely well-acted.”

London Box Office: **** “The unadulterated parallels with Britain today are hard to ignore and add poignancy and relevance to the timing of this production. After all, if we cannot learn from past mistakes, what sort of future can we expect?”

The Times: **** “Andrea Levy’s excellent 2004 novel won many prizes and the BBC produced a two-part drama in 2009. But this adaptation, written by Helen Edmundson and directed by Rufus Norris, seems much more immediate. There were repeated gasps as we watched events, which anyone in 1948 would have thought quite ordinary, take place.”

There Ought to be Clowns: “The first act, indeed the whole show, may be lengthy but Edmundson and Norris don’t waste a minute of it. It allows them to layer in all manner of details to flesh out these finely crafted characters as their stories slowly unwind.”

The Telegraph: ***** “I don’t think it’s overstating things to declare that in this inspiring adaptation, which compresses the book into a gripping three-hour state-of-the-nation epic – how “we” were then, prefiguring who “we” have become now – Small Island has found its ideal home….”

British Theatre Guide: “It is rare to see the best novels translated satisfyingly to the stage and there is no question that Small Island is a great work. The diverse nature of the two media militates against the efforts of even the best adaptors.”

The Upcoming: *** “Compounding the feeling of an opportunity missed is the elegance of the staging. Set against a curved screen, projecting sky and street and ocean, Katrina Lindsay’s design sketches the idea of home using the skeletal framework of a house, a sparse scattering of stairs, battered furniture and floating windows. It allows Norris the freedom for intimate domestic scenes and sweeping shifts from country to country, creating a sense of scope that the perhaps poorly handled story deserves.”

The Reviews Hub: *** 1/2 “There is an easy flow to Rufus Norris’s direction facilitated by Katrina Lindsay’s impressionistic set, packing plenty of material into the show’s long running time with only the occasional sag in momentum as we wait a little too long for the protagonists to finally come together.”

ReviewsGate: ***** “It is a most handsome staging, makes full use of the Olivier stage and what it can do, as well as doing full justice to its source, Levy’s novel and to the Windrush victims.”

Small Island continues to play at the National Theatre.

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