National Theatre Live: Small Island
- 3h 30min
A journey from Jamaica to Britain, through the Second World War to 1948 - the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury.A journey from Jamaica to Britain, through the Second World War to 1948 - the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury.A journey from Jamaica to Britain, through the Second World War to 1948 - the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury.
It is very sad that Levy didn't live to see this stage production of 'Small Island', she would have been proud of what to me when watching it in the cinema was something quite special. Was both interested and worried as to how the book would translate to stage, condensing it would not have been easy, a challenge actually, but it is done so here while staying true to the spirit of the book and not trivialising the themes or characters. There have been wholly successful stage productions based on books in the National Theatre Live series, examples being 'War Horse', 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time', 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses', 'Jane Eyre' and 'Frankenstein'. 'Small Island' is as wonderful as them. Am a relatively regular cinema goer and get a lot of pleasure out of watching the National Theatre Live series, but watching 'Small Island' was my most emotional cinematic experience since the National Theatre Live transmission of 'All My Sons' a couple of months back.
'Small Island' may look somewhat simple in set and costume design but never unattractively so, also not inappropriately so. They have atmosphere and are neither drab or gaudy. They are made even more interesting by lighting that matches the drama and gives a sense of time and place. Similarly by photography that has intimacy while also being expansive enough too, it often doesn't feel like a filmed play and more worthy of a film. Plus those projections, which are not only eye catching but are also used beautifully, was worried as to whether they would distract and serve little purpose but actually they added a lot.
The writing maintains the thought-provoking, tense, poignant and at times funny spirit of the book's writing, doing so without being rambling or over-literal and also having the necessary depth. The length of the play is a long one with a lengthy first act, but for me it never felt dull (do know people that felt the first act occasionally dragged, but that wasn't the case with me). Despite this long length, considering the sprawling book structure and the meaty storytelling and characterisation, actually worried in fact that the play's length was too short but pleasantly found that the condensation was successful. Didn't feel choppiness or confusion that can be found when source material is condensed and there is not a sense thank goodness of it being a book that should have been left alone instead. Having felt that with a few films seen recently, so felt relieved that it wasn't the case here.
From the very beginning to the last second, the stage direction never felt cluttered or static, making great use of the space meaning that the cast were not swamped and that the stage didn't look too busy at the same time. It also came over as very nuanced with great attention to detail in expressions, reactions and body language. The subject and themes are very heavy and sensitive, needing enough tact to make them resonate. Luckily the production deals the story sympathetically and candidly, didn't feel preached at at all and the story does resonate and feels as relevant today as it did back then with any gratuitous touches.
Characters all came over as very real instead of being one-dimensional or worse caricatures, not as meaty perhaps as in the source material but hardly watered-down either. All made possible by being superbly played from the biggest role to the smallest, the leads being on electric form.
Overall, a wonderful production. 10/10
- Jul 4, 2019