Do­ing jus­tice to Win­drush gen­er­a­tion

Daily Mail - - It's Friday! - Re­views by Pa­trick Marmion

Small Is­land (Olivier, Na­tional Theatre) Ver­dict: Win­drush epic un­furls beau­ti­fully The Half God Of Rain­fall (Kiln Theatre, Lon­don) Ver­dict: Gutsy po­etic fan­tasy

We’ve had An­drea Levy’s novel Small Is­land se­ri­alised on Tv with Naomie Har­ris, Ruth Wil­son and Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch. So this isn’t ex­actly the most ground­break­ing pro­gram­ming at the Na­tional Theatre.

But the story, about Ja­maican im­mi­grants af­ter World War II, does come in the wake of last year’s Win­drush scan­dal. And where it’s al­ways salu­tary to take stock of our so­cial his­tory, it’s even bet­ter to see au­di­ences in our coun­try’s the­atri­cal flag­ship look­ing a lit­tle less pale.

But the best thing about Ru­fus Nor­ris’s flu­ent pro­duc­tion is a spec­tac­u­lar de­sign by Ka­t­rina Lind­say. It con­trasts the green vis­tas of Ja­maica’s moun­tains with mono­chrome im­ages of gloomy, bombed-out Lon­don.

Be­neath these, un­der­ground hy­draulics de­liver fur­ni­ture and ac­tors onto the stage like a mul­ti­di­men­sional cuckoo clock. All of which al­lows He­len ed­mund­son’s adap­ta­tion to catch the epic sweep of Levy’s novel.

The first half of the three-and-aquar­ter-hour epic is flushed with the op­ti­mism of youth. Leah Har­vey is de­cep­tively strait-laced as the novel’s hero­ine, Hortense, who’s sur­vived a tough but still rel­a­tively idyl­lic Ja­maican childhood

and re­solved to teach in eng­land. Her dreams of so­cial mo­bil­ity, how­ever, run aground on the dank re­al­ity of post-war Bri­tain of­fer­ing only racism, filthy weather and even worse fruit.

As her op­po­site num­ber in Bri­tain, Ais­ling Lof­tus’s Quee­nie is a gutsy North­erner sur­prised that a love­less mar­riage yields only low-grade love­mak­ing.

Slightly stereo­typ­i­cally, this is re­solved by a Ja­maican lover­man in her board­ing house, and she goes on to give birth, with a hor­ri­fied Hortense as her vir­gin mid­wife.

The sec­ond half loses some vi­tal­ity, per­haps be­cause of a

mea culpa de­ter­mi­na­tion to do cul­tural penance rather than keep faith with the char­ac­ters.

On this score, An­drew Roth­ney draws the short straw as Quee­nie’s pre­dictably racist husband. But that doesn’t stop Gersh­wyn eus­tache Jnr light­ing up the evening as the ever- op­ti­mistic would-be lawyer who’s press­ganged into mar­ry­ing Hortense.

His char­ac­ter tri­umphs over the worst of An­glo-Saxon mis­er­ab­lism with cheer­ful gen­eros­ity and a cheesy sense of hu­mour.

THeshow’s great coup de

theatre, though, comes at the end of the first half when a gi­gan­tic sail is un­furled for a life-size pro­jec­tion of the Win­drush ship that brought many Caribbeans to our shores.

With Ben­jamin Kwasi Bur­rell’s or­ches­tral jazz score, it’s an image that sticks: one part his­tor­i­cal in­dict­ment; one part hope.

n THe Half God Of Rain­fall is a para­ble of spir­i­tual en­durance and cos­mic de­fi­ance. The writ­ing is a good deal jazz­ier than Small

Is­land. Writ­ten by Inua el­lams (best known for his play The Barber Shop Chron­i­cles), it com­bines Greek and Nige­rian Yoruba myth and started life as an epic poem.

It’s brought to life in Nancy Me­d­ina’s im­pres­sive pro­duc­tion as the tale of a Nige­rian woman who’s raped by the God Zeus and gives birth to an Olympic bas­ket­ball player.

Though el­lams’s es­o­teric story can be hard to fol­low, his po­etry takes wing on Max John’s de­sign, which looks like a cracked phone screen be­low a sim­ple back­drop that seems to stretch to in­fin­ity un­der Jackie Shemesh’s ethe­real light­ing.

Tanuja Amara­suriya adds earthly and ter­res­trial sounds, while Rakie Ay­ola and Kwami Odoom im­press as the mother and son root­ing their vi­sion­ary char­ac­ters in sim­ple hu­man­ity.

Im­pres­sive: Leah Har­vey (left) as Hortense in Small Is­land

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