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A Small Place review at the Gate Theatre, London – ‘interrogates the ugly legacy of colonialism’

Cherrelle Skeete in A Small Place at Gate Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray
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In a pitch black room, a woman clips an LED torch to the page and reads from Jamaica Kincaid’s 1988 novel A Small Place. Another sits and watches her. In four acts that correspond with the four sections in the book, these two women interrogate the ugly legacy of British colonialism on the Caribbean island of Antigua.

Camilla Clarke’s set design does not feature a traditional stage. Instead there are sparsely filled bookshelves and ancient looking TV sets dotted about the place. Maybe it’s a community centre, or a library, or a tourist information centre. Maybe it’s a combination of all three.

The actors – Cherrelle Skeete and Nicola Alexis – parade along the narrow aisles created by the placement of the mismatched benches and chairs on which the audience sit – some parallel, some adjacent; some facing each other, some back to back. This is conceptually and visually interesting but does, at times, feel laborious.

Everything in Anna Himali Howard’s production is deliberate. The books – which are sometimes piled on heads as the women walk around the space as if at a finishing school – have quintessentially English titles. The main light sources come from objects in the room: a clip-on torch, a tired overhead projector, a sad lamp. It all adds to the feeling of brokenness reflected in the text. When Skeete uses the torch to light her face from below it feels like something out of a horror story.

If you ever wanted to understand why some people cannot get over the past, cannot forgive and cannot forget, this is the show for you.

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A horror story that’s also a love letter to the Caribbean island of Antigua