Review: A Little Life


by Mike Matthaiakis

“A Little Life” arrives on the West End stage with James Norton at the helm, delivering a performance that is both harrowing and compelling. Adapted from Hanya Yanagihara’s bestselling novel by director Ivo van Hove, this production has sparked controversy for its graphic portrayal of dark subject matter.

Norton takes on the role of Jude St. Francis, a New York lawyer haunted by a traumatic past of sexual abuse and life-altering injuries. In a daring move, Norton bares himself both physically and emotionally, laying bare the scars and self-harm that define Jude’s existence. It’s a performance that demands attention, with Norton’s portrayal capturing the raw vulnerability and inner turmoil of his character.

The production doesn’t shy away from confronting its audience, with scenes of brutality and abuse depicted in unflinching detail. Audience members have reportedly been shocked and even compelled to leave, a testament to the visceral impact of the performance. Yet, amidst the darkness, there are moments of profound humanity and connection, particularly in Norton’s interactions with Zubin Varla’s compassionate adoptive father and Luke Thompson’s devoted friend Willem.

The staging, with its use of parallel screens and haunting visuals of New York, adds to the sense of unease and disorientation, mirroring Jude’s fractured psyche. However, the production’s lengthy runtime and heavy-handed exposition detract from its overall impact, with the script occasionally feeling overstated and the accompanying music overwhelming.

Overall, “A Little Life” is a challenging and thought-provoking theatrical experience, anchored by James Norton’s powerful performance. It’s a production that delves deep into the darkest corners of the human experience, leaving a lasting impression on those brave enough to bear witness.

“A Little Life” is running until 18 June at the Harold Pinter Theatre.