Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

Review: The American Clock, Finborough

“There’s never been a society that’s not had a clock running on it”

Venturing into the lesser performed works of a playwright, even one as well-renowned as Arthur Miller, is always a tricky manoeuvre. There’s often a good reason plays collect dust on the shelf and so it takes a keen eye to spot the potential for revival and reassessment in a new production. The Finborough have become one of the premier spots in London for unearthing such gems and are hoping that they have struck gold again with Phil Willmott’s new take on Miller’s 1980 play The American Clock, which hasn’t been seen here since its first (albeit Olivier-award winning) run at the National in 1986.

The play was inspired by Studs Terkel’s oral history Hard Times and also Miller’s own recollections from the 1930s, to tell a wide-ranging tale of how the Great Depression actually played out for the American people. Using an episodic structure to work his way through stories of nearly 40 characters, the focus finally settles mainly on one well-off upper middle class family, the Baums, who are forced to relocate from their Manhattan townhouse to a relative’s spare room in Brooklyn, their struggle to deal with their changing fortunes ultimately sending mother, father and son reeling off in tragically different directions. Continue reading “Review: The American Clock, Finborough”

Review: The Notebook of Trigorin, Finborough

“You understand how the world turns on successfully practised duplicity? On cunning lies?”

I think Phil Willmott and I would be very good friends. Creator of two of my favourite musicals in recent months, joyous works both, and whilst I may not have entirely approved of F**king Men, I can see where he’s coming from as it were. So I was quite upset when Phil went and ruined our friendship by choosing Chekhov as his next project, why Phil why? Still, all is not lost as it is at least Chekhov once removed.

The Notebook of Trigorin is described as a ‘free adaptation’ of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull by American playwright Tennessee Williams. It’s quite the moment for Williams rarities in London with one of his earlier plays Spring Storm at the National Theatre and this Notebook both being performed for the first time in the capital. It mostly follows the plot of Chekhov’s original, so Masha loves Constantine who loves Nina who loves Trigorin who is also loved by Arkadina. Williams’ conceit is to make Trigorin the focus of the play and with more than a hint of autobiographical detail, makes him a closeted homosexual. So the tangle of relationships, with the destructive mother/son dynamic between Arkadina and Constantine at its core, becomes centred around the self-possessed Trigorin who is in the midst of all the tragedy in the play, yet remains unscathed by it. Continue reading “Review: The Notebook of Trigorin, Finborough”