Small Island tells the story of the Windrush generation, Caribbean immigrants who traveled to England in search of a new life and exciting opportunities. Beginning in Jamaica, before the onset of the Second World War, through to 1948, the play follows the journey of three interconnected characters: Hortense, Gilbert, and Queenie. Hortense has grown up as the illegitimate child in a strict, oppressive household and she yearns for a life away from rural Jamaica. She follows her husband, Gilbert, to England in 1948 but her hopes and expectations are soon dashed. Gilbert comes to England while serving in the Royal Air Force during the war. He dreams of becoming a lawyer and returns to England post-war, hoping to pursue his ambition. Meanwhile, Queenie longs to escape her Lincolnshire farm roots and moves to London to make a new life for herself. When her husband fails to return home from the war, Queenie takes in lodgers and becomes landlady to Gilbert and Hortense. However, Queenie has a secret that will change all of their lives. Hope, ambition, and humanity meet a bleak reality as Small Island traces the tangled history between Jamaica and the UK.
Editor’s Note: As part of depicting the experience of Jamaican immigrants to Britain after the Second World War, at times characters in the play use language which is racially offensive.
Small Island guide sections