Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
Small Island, 2019
Based on the book by Andrea Levy
Adapted by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Rufus Norris
Scenery and Costumes by Katrina Lindsay
Projections by Jon Driscoll
Music by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell
Small Island is a 2004 novel by British author Andrea Levy, that deals with the intersecting lives of four people after WW II. Hortense and Gilbert are Jamaican immigrants who came to England looking for a better life, but instead find racism and less economic opportunity than they were promised. They find lodgings with Queenie, a white middle class woman who doesn't mind that her lodgers are black. Her RAF husband, Bernard, is MIA since the war ended and she has to make ends meet any way she can. When Bernard comes home unexpectedly to find Queenie pregnant, his racism makes all their lives impossible.
The author Andrea Levy died of liver cancer just a few months before this adaptation opened. I highly recommend watching this production while you still can.
The cast of the show visited the Black Cultural Archives to learn more about the experience of Jamaicans that came over on the SS Windrush.
Alford Gardner, 93, talks about his experiences coming over on the SS Windrush.
The design concept for the scenery seemed to be suggestive rather than literal. There was very little actual scenery: a table, some chairs, a bench, a bed, a counter, some windows that fly in, a staircase. The real hero here was the projections, designed by Jon Driscoll, that made this show come to life. The cyclorama had backgrounds for each scene rear-projected onto it. The backgrounds enhanced the scenery with mountains, the ocean, a hurricane, the SS Windrush, a shop, a factory, and some gorgeous sunsets. At several points, it seemed like giant doors opened in the middle of the cyc for entrances and exits. When passengers were boarding the ship, we saw their shadows climbing the staircase and then actually disappearing into the ship. I'm not sure how they did that, but it was a first class bit of theatre magic. Twice, a smaller sheet flew in to become a movie theatre screen that had movies projected onto it. In conjunction with the lighting and sound, the projections of island life and city life become sensually real, that is real to all the senses: the heat, the smell of the ocean breeze, the sound of the waves, the scent of the flowers, and the birdsong, contrast with the bustling London life: the cold and damp, the never-ending rain, the sounds and smells of traffic, congestion, people, smoke, bombed out buildings, poverty, racism.
This was a cast of 40 in which almost everyone plays more than one character and has many costume changes. The costumes were appropriately 1940's. In Jamaica, the clothes were much more colorful, and of course, lighter for the heat. The clothes in London were drabber, grayer, and warmer with more layers for the cold and damp. Hortense and Queenie got more costumes than anyone else naturally. Hortense began in a solid blue dress that she stayed in until she changed it for a white dress when she's made up her mind to get out of Jamaica any way she can. For the trip, she added a hat, coat, and gloves. Her costumes reinforce her determined nature and her respect for cleanliness and class, being a teacher. Queenie started off on the family pig farm in Lincolnshire, wearing a work dress complete with bloody apron. She then moved to London to help her Aunt out in her shop, when she finally got to go shopping for new clothes. She added a hat, coat and gloves for her dates with Bernard. When he didn't come home from the war, she switched to a frumpy house dress to hide her pregnancy from everyone. Queenie's costumes reflected her outgoing nature and her love of adventure and acceptance of the people around her. She took in strays of all kinds and cared for them equally. Of course there's RAF uniforms aplenty on Michael and his squadron, and Gilbert and his comrades. The costumes were beautiful to look at in their simple elegance and oh, so many of them to look at.
A 7 minute video about the composition of the music for the show, by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell.
Leave a Reply.