Review: A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre - a tough but compelling watch
A Little Life, the adaptation of Hanya Yanagihara's tome of a novel, is not an easy watch. It's taken me two days to feel able to revisit it because of the subject matter and ultimately how the story made me feel.
I couldn't record my usual 60-second review because I was too emotionally raw, as the video below captures.
It's a play with severe content warnings and it isn't a one-off event that earns the label; this is a play that is challenging throughout. It explores sexual violence and self-harm, among other things, and it is explicit in its descriptions and depictions - little is implied.
But it's also a play of enduring friendships, love and support.
Jude St Francis (James Norton) is a brilliant lawyer. He was orphaned as a young child, brought up in care and has problems with his legs, which means he sometimes uses a wheelchair.
He has three very good friends: Willem (Luke Thompson), an actor, JB (Omari Douglas), an artist and Malcolm (Zach Wyatt), an architect. He is also loved by his old university professor Harold (Zubin Varla), who wants to formally adopt him and is diligently cared for by his doctor Andy (Emilio Doorgasingh).
The latter knows more than the others about Jude from treating him, but the details of his early life are still scant.
Jude's compulsion to cut himself hints at emotional trauma which he will not discuss with those who care about him but is revealed through a series of flashbacks.
This tests his friendships at times but his relationships are solid enough to endure. It's as if his friends sense the depth of his emotional pain even if they don't understand what is causing it. And that is heart-warming.
The set is an apartment, complete with island kitchen. Under Ivo Van Hove's direction the performances are beautifully naturalistic with actors often going about 'normal' at-home activities such as preparing food and cleaning up. You feel like an unseen observer of real life.
It is such a compelling watch that I barely noticed pieces of furniture sliding on and off the stage.
This is a play of contrasts, a life filled with horror but also fun and laughter. It's about trust and loyalty and how that can get manipulated. It's about tenderness and patience but also guilt and self-loathing.
It's about the endurance of friendship, love and the human spirit. It's about human survival, drive and spirit but also about when that spirit breaks.
It's a tough play to watch, but it is utterly gripping. It slowly broke my heart and will live in my memory for a very long time.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre
Based on the novel by Hanya Yanagihara
Conceived and directed by Ivo Van Hove
Starring James Norton, Luke Thompson and Omari Douglas
Running time 3 hours and 40 minutes, including one interval
Booking until 16 June, then it transfers to the Savoy Theatre from the 4 July – 5 August. For more information and to book tickets which include on-stage seating, visit the A Little Life website.
BLACK SUPERHERO, Royal Court Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half, booking until 29 April
Further Than The Furthest Thing, Young Vic ⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 25 April
Phaedra, National Theatre ⭐️⭐️ for the staging ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for the play and performances booking until 8 April.
A Streetcar Named Desire, Almeida Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half; transferring to the West End on 20 March.