Small Island Review

By Norm Robins

Britain’s acclaimed, and deservedly so, National Theater will be streaming 3 more productions for free during our Covid-19 outbreak. The next one will be Small Island starting Thursday, June 18th and continuing for a week.

Based on the novel by Andrea Levy, it tells the story of three characters, Hortense who yearns for a new life away from Jamaica, Gilbert, also from Jamaica, who dreams of becoming a lawyer, and Queenie, a pig farmer’s daughter, who longs to escape her life in rural Britain. It is partially a story based on her father’s experience immigrating to the U.K. from Jamaica in 1948. It is a story about hope and humanity. It is a story about unfounded prejudice and its ramifications.

The time frame is through World War II and up to 1948, the year the ship Empire Windrush docked in Britain with its cargo of immigrants from Jamaica. It is in a narrow sense the story of the Windrush Incident, the disenfranchising of black immigrants and their attempts to get restitution promised them by the British government for the economic harms done to them. In a larger sense it is about the bigotry blacks encountered after their immigration. It takes place in the U.K., but it could have taken place in the U.S. It is the same story.

Two words of warning: This is a long play with a runtime of a bit over 3 hours, and it has some strong language in it. The play opened in 2019, the year Levy died at age 62 of cancer. This performance is dedicated to her memory.

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