Small Island: A Fantastic Drama That Entertains Like a Sitcom ★★★★★

By Anna Berkowitz

The National Theatre’s take on Andrea Levy’s 2004 novel about the Windrush generation is a brilliantly revived story of love, prejudice, and migration set in the years before, during, and after World War II. Small Island was staged at the National in 2019 to great acclaim, and has been brought back to the legendary Olivier Theatre with an all new cast and director. 

Small Island can truly be called an epic, as it runs for nearly three and half hours and covers nearly two decades. However, I never once felt bored, itching to look at my phone, or anxious for the interval. The entire cast imbues each role with vigour and passion, and the background projections, done by Jon Driscoll, along with Katrina Lindsay’s set design lends dynamism to a long play. 

The story opens with Hortense (Leonie Elliott), a young Jamaican woman, living in Kingston, but then the play quickly shifts to the fiery and loveable Queenie (Mirren Mack) who lives in London with her detestable and racist husband Bernard (a convincingly horrible Martin Hutson). One particularly endearing addition comes in the form of Bernard’s father, a World War I veteran Arthur. Their stories unfold in parallel as their paths intersect; however my one and only critique is that the shift in focus to Queenie, draws enough attention and sympathy away from Hortense to the point where I lost much of the sympathy that is built up around her character in the first half of the play. 

It was surprisingly funny in a dramatic sitcom-esque way, and effectively switches in the blink of an eye between truly tragic moments and the more comedic elements. While comic, it does effectively depict the racism, both implicit and explicit, that Hortense and her husband Gilbert (a standout performance by Leemore Marrett Jr.) experience once they settle in London. 

Ultimately, between the storytelling, the acting, the scale, and the truly heartwarming acting, it’s an absolute triumph. Tickets start from only £20 at the National Theatre and it runs until the 30th of April. I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

Hi, I’m Anna Berkowitz. I’m from Berkeley, California, and I’m a General Course student, in my third year, studying International Relations and Literature. In the limited time that I have outside of the wonderful world of academia, I enjoy running, reading, playing flute, and spending all my money on cinema tickets and books. I love writing about new films, and tv, especially anything in the science fiction or fantasy genre. If you’d like to get in touch about anything at all, my email is a.e.berkowitz@lse.ac.uk, and my Instagram is @anna.berkowitz

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