Review: A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre

A Little Life is tough going to be sure at the Harold Pinter Theatre but it is also an astonishing experience

“We all look the same when we cry”

There’s been all sorts of hand-wringing about the arrival of A Little Life, a run which has long sold out (presumably due to the presence of Happy Valley star James Norton as opposed to the return of director Ivo van Hove…). Hanya Yanagihara’s novel is both a bestseller and highly divisive and people really don’t have any problem in telling you so (quite why, they’ve then booked in to see the show, who knows…) Harold Pinter Theatre

I’ve actually been able to catch the show twice in Dutch, pre-pandemic in Amsterdam and post- in Edinburgh last year, and the book still remains unread on the shelf. So you can see the position I’m coming from right there, I’m willingly putting myself through a super-long play again because I dig it, its depiction of ongoing trauma undoubtedly uncompromising in its brutality but near-transcendent in the experience.

Norton plays Jude, a man who life has treated unkindly to say the least. An orphan abused by the monks who look after him, later further abused by the doctor who takes him in when he escapes and even as he becomes a lawyer, his adult life is still marked by the shadow of abuse, both psychologically and physically. It is bleak and painful, but intentionally so, as an exploration of that damage and how it can endure throughout life.

Adapted by van Hove and Yanagihara with Koen Tachelet, we slip between past and present. He’s surrounded by friends Willem (Luke Thompson), JB (Omari Douglas) and Malcolm (Zach Wyatt), all desperate to help (though they all seem to figure less than I remembered, I suspect the 30 minutes cut from the Dutch-language production may have included them more) and Elliot Cowan figures impressively as the various key antagonisers in Jude’s life. Definitely challenging but extraordinary with it.

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
A Little Life is booking at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 18th June, and then plays Savoy Theatre 4th July-5th August

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