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Zach Wyatt (Malcolm), James Norton (Jude), Luke Thompson (Willem), Omari Douglas (JB). Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

Review: A Little Life

By Harriet First Published 5 April 2023, Last Updated 12 May 2023

A Little Life, directed by Ivo van Hove and based on the critically acclaimed novel by Hanya Yanagihara, is returning to the West End. Following a best-selling run at the Harold Pinter Theatre, audiences get another chance to see it at the Savoy Theatre this summer. But do note the show’s heavy trigger warnings, and you might even want to read the synopsis of the book before seeing the show as it includes very raw depictions and themes of abuse.

The all-star cast includes James Norton (Happy Valley) Luke Thompson (Bridgerton), Omari Douglas (It’s A Sin), Zach Wyatt (The Witcher), Elliot Cowan (The Crown), Zubin Varla (Tammy Faye), Nathalie Armin (Force Majeure) and Emilio Doorgasingh (Best of Enemies).

Luke Thompson (Willem), James Norton (Jude), Zubin Varla (Harold), Emilio Doorgasingh (Andy), Zach Wyatt (Malcolm), Omari Douglas (JB). Pic by Jan Versweyveld.

The story follows four best friends, Willem, JB, Malcom and Jude, and their creative pursuits in New York City. The play centres around Jude, whose tortured past haunts him, preventing him from letting his loved ones get too close.

James Norton gives the performance of a lifetime. Fans of Happy Valley will know that he’s an actor with immense talent; able to be simultaneously terrifying and charming. In this relentlessly demanding show, he is onstage nearly the whole time, showing us at once guttural pain and fragility; fear to defying strength; anger to tender love. We learn how Jude endured horrific abuse as a child and teenager. Now a grown man, he is adored by those who love him and want to help him. It’s a story that explores male relationships – of abuse and also love. Jude searches for peace and for simple pleasures in life, as he tries to run away from a past that haunts him. However his refusal to open up about what happened to him, to seek counselling or to trust friends with his secrets, holds him back. His friends are played by the delightful Omari Douglas, who brings welcome comic relief, Zach Wyatt as the devoted and practical Malcom, and Luke Thompson who is outstanding as Willem.

James Norton in A Little Life. Credit Jan Versweyveld.

The staging is clever and effective, with scenes projected on the wall, showing a slow-motion stroll through the streets of New York. There is atmospheric and often eerie music, played by a live band.

Overall, this is a truly one-off production, with an unbelievably talented cast. It’s an endurance test for audiences as well as an advocate for the benefits of counselling, talking therapy, and opening up to those around you.

Luke Thompson (Willem), James Norton (Jude). Pic by Jan Versweyveld.


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A Little Life Review

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