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Review of Small Island by Esther Austin

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

'Small Island the revival of the critically acclaimed production. Adapted by Helen Edmundson from Andrea Levy’s prize-winning novel and directed by Rufus Norris, the production opened on 24 February in the Olivier theatre. Small Island brings to life the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK. Following the intricately connected stories of Hortense, newly arrived in London, landlady Queenie and servicemen Gilbert and Bernard, hope and humanity meet stubborn reality in their epic revival.'

This was my second time seeing Small Island at The National Theatre on Thursday 3rd March, and as before I was totally enthralled. Small Island still invoked so much inside of me. A nostalgic cacophony of visuals that were reminiscent of The Caribbean and her history; An oral historical sound track of captured experiences; moments where feelings and reactions were imposed upon by some pretty brutal truths about the experiences of a group of people who were thrown into a maelstrom of unexpected, painful and heart wrenching experiences, simply because of the colour of their skin. The play depicted how man's inhumanity to man can spread like a virus creating havoc and pain and yet in the midst of it all how man sometimes recognises the power within, simply because they held onto the essence of their culture and tradition and chose ' 'to become the change they wanted to see in the world.'

There was also the juxtaposition of culture and cultures intertwined within the connectivity of displacement and/or emigration, both sides of the coin seeking for a different or better life - however the singular thread of resonance for both was in the experiences had. For example when the British Army went to the island of Jamaica to sign up men for war. For some Jamaicans - they refused to be part of something that they clearly saw was still part of a cruel dictatorship of the 'slave trade'. The hierarchy was still the same as before but their message was delivered in a more palatable way yet with covert undertones.

Other Jamaicans, took pride in being given a 'great opportunity' to fight for the

Mother Land - a pride of being associated with the land of milk and honey and yet archaically and covertly, these men were nothing more than tools and pawns in the hands of the 'enemy' who were parading as sheep in wolves clothing. There is a saying keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But also it was their 'get out of jail' card, to be able to leave the island, to get work so they could build a future, and achieve their dreams.

The contrasts of Jamaicans in Jamaica and Jamaicans in the UK were portrayed on many levels. The island of Jamaica was an energy of light and ease, evoking a sense of freedom in the soul, despite the hardship and lack and why? because there was access to nature's most luxurious gifts - sun, sea and sand. Laughter, hard work, freedom to roam with ease or with the gait of music constantly permeating the soul of the land. Jamaica, where culture, music and tradition were steeped into the souls of a people who were disillusioned by the remnants of Slavery and war and yet hopeful and free to the possibilities of a better or different life. Ultimately this seemed to be the journey everyone was on, whether they remained on the island or were looking forward to exploring the notion that the streets of London were paved with gold, their goal was for a better life.