Leah Harvey (Hortense), Gershwyn Eustace Jr (Gilbert), Andrew Rothney (Bernard), CJ Beckford (Michael), Aisling Loftus (Queenie), Johann Myers (Elwood) and David Fielder (Arthur).
Adapted by Helen Edmundson
Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning novel Small Island comes to life in an epic new theatre adaptation. Experience the play in cinemas, filmed live on stage as part of National Theatre Live’s 10th birthday.
Small Island embarks on a journey from Jamaica to Britain, through the Second World War to 1948 – the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury.
The play follows three intricately connected stories. Hortense yearns for a new life away from rural Jamaica, Gilbert dreams of becoming a lawyer, and Queenie longs to escape her Lincolnshire roots. Hope and humanity meet stubborn reality as the play traces the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK.
A company of 40 actors take to the stage of the National Theatre in this timely and moving story.
Small Island is BBFC rated 15 due to use of strong language. As part of depicting the experience of Jamaican immigrants to Britain after the Second World War, at times characters in the play use language which is racially offensive. For more information please contact the National Theatre's Help Centre.
Small Island, Andrea Levy’s 2005 historical novel, is told from the perspective of four characters: Queenie, Hortense, Gilbert, and Bernard. The point of view shifts frequently between these characters and across the years, spanning from just after World War I to 1948. The four characters make up two couples, one white and one black—Queenie and Bernard are married, as are Hortense and Gilbert. The prologue begins with Queenie, the white woman, as she remembers attending an international fair in England just after World War I and shaking hands with a black African man, much to the horror of other white people around her.
The narrative then shifts to 1948, and to Hortense, a black woman who has just arrived in London from her homeland of Jamaica. She goes to meet her husband, Gilbert, and is shocked by his one-room, unfurnished apartment in a house that Queenie owns. We learn of Hortense’s childhood. She was raised by her aunt and uncle and was especially close with her cousin Michael, who joins the English Royal Air Force (RAF) and leaves Jamaica. While at a teacher training college, Hortense meets Gilbert, who is visiting his hometown on an extended visit before returning to London. Hortense and Gilbert marry, with plans for Hortense to join him in London soon.