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Small Island Review

Small Island by Andrea Levy, adapted for stage by Helen Edmundson

National Theatre at Home 18th-25th of June

Review by Aruna Jalloh, Ben Quashie and Khai Shaw

Win - Jay Rock ft Kendrick Lamar

This one is for the entire production team because my goodness... They DID NOT MISS. From the projections of Gilbert waving farewell to Hortense on the HMT Empire Windrush travelling to England culminating the 1st Act, to the shadow of a British Aircraft covering the stage, only to seamlessly transition into the projection in the backdrop. Exquisite. The minimalistic set was also incredibly nuanced, transforming from a warehouse into a tenement building in front of your very eyes. Even the hair on the baby's head was done with acute detail. It’s a massive, massive WIN! The braggadocios lyrics of Jay Rock coupled with the regality of the horns in the melody are the perfect theme song to detail the triumph of this production. Katrina Lindsay, Jon Driscoll, Paul Anderson, Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and Gino Ricardo Green... take a bow guys.

Favourite Mistake - Giveon

After this production its safe to say that we're big fans of CJ Beckford and his portrayal of Michael Roberts. From the moment he enters you can see the swagger in his demeanour; mature, smooth, dapper, yet bubbling with a darker undertone, which later reveals itself in his clear liking for married white women. And yet for all of his wrong doings we see a man who wants to live life the way he believes it should be lived. You continue to root for him, even whilst he continues to make the same mistake. As the song title suggests, Giveon battles with a similar problem, yet with his smooth baritone vocals, the chillingly beautiful synths and soft drums... you can't help but be taken away into the world of his favourite mistake too... just like you can't help but be taken away but the sheer charm of Mr CJ Beckford.

The Night Me and Your Mama Met - Childish Gambino

I think its safe to say that Hortense (played by Leah Harvey) and Gilbert's (played by Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) relationship in this play is a fairly tumultuous one. From their first meeting, to her arriving in London to live with Gilbert, it was clear that finding some common ground, let alone love and a want to be a family, was going to be tough. However, the journey this relationship goes on gives us perhaps some of the more beautiful moments to watch in this play. The more they are forced to adapt/assimilate to their hostile environment, they slowly begin to find solace and love within each other, even as the England they live in becomes increasingly unforgiving. The ever changing tones in the choir and the subtle then dynamic playing of the guitar in Childish Gambino's song, feels like a slow dance between two lovers, but also echoes the sentiment of this relationship well. It feels like the foundations that these two have built can never be shaken, no matter what may come their way.

New Sky - SiR ft Kadhja Bonet

This production is incredibly layered, with a lot of twist and turns and a lot of unexpected encounters and conclusions to scenes. So much so that we're splitting the play's theme songs into two! As SiR himself echoes in the song "But flying away didn't fix a thing," we see within the first half of the play the idea that life beyond the tropical humdrum of this Small Island may not necessarily be what its cracked up to be. However, like moths to a flame, characters like Gilbert, Michael and even Hortense still view England as the mecca of opportunity. This song also does a great job of capturing the juxtaposition seen within the show, really well. As SiR croons and laments his time wasted looking for a better life, the tropical R&B tones of the guitar and the casual beat of the snare and kick drums, perfectly capture the idea that, despite the beauty of the backdrop, our characters still want for more.

Moonlight - Jay-Z

Jay-Z himself says it best: "We're stuck in La La Land, even when we win we gone lose." Time and time again, we see our heroes Hortense and Gilbert constantly reminded that the England they signed up for was the not the one that they had envisioned. Every small achievement comes with a set back, placing them in an almost never-ending cycle of abuse and torment. Helen Edmundson did an exceptional job with this adaptation, as every nuance was captured from the book and placed on the stage, with wit, charm, sadness and joy, perfectly capturing the hardship that members aboard the Windrush faced upon their arrival in this country, Jay-Z's sermon like verses in this song are a true reflection of this sentiment, carefully picking apart the pitfalls of the modern day African-American artist, showing them that despite their gains, this is not an arena built for them, and they will continue to be used and abused until they can truly make their own path.


Honourable Mentions:

London is the Place for Me - Aldwyn Roberts

Credit - Ty Dolla $ign ft Sevyn Streeter

Time - Childish Gambino

Can't Give Up Now - Mary Mary


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