A new stage adaptation of “A Little Life,” one of the most heartrending stories of modern literature, is finally coming to the West End, with starring roles for James Norton and “It’s a Sin” star Omari Douglas.
Acclaimed theater director Ivo van Hove will direct an English-language adaptation of Hanya Yanagihara’s prize-winning novel. The show — which will be produced by Wessex Grove, Gavin Kalin Productions and Playful Productions — marks the second production of the material for van Hove. The director previously staged a Dutch-language adaptation of the book, which debuted in the Netherlands and toured to Edinburgh and New York this year.
Published in 2015 — with an iconic cover courtesy of Peter Hujar’s 1969 “Orgasmic Man” photograph — “A Little Life” spans around 20 years in the lives of four male friends from college who settle in New York and pursue different professional paths.
JB is a deeply ambitious visual artist determined to make it big, while Malcolm wants to impress his wealthy family by making his own name in the world of architecture. Willem is an up-and-coming actor struggling to get meaty roles, and Jude is a hot-shot lawyer with a mysterious past that his friends know better than to ask questions about.
While the story starts out as an engaging story about a group of tight-knit and largely penniless friends figuring out their lives after university, the book eventually develops to center mainly on Jude, and the others’ relationships with him.
Some readers of the novel, which is more than 700 pages, struggle with detailed descriptions of Jude’s past traumas, which include child sexual abuse, and the character’s inability to catch a break over the course of the story. The novel’s descriptions of self-harm, which are at times excruciating to read, are also difficult to get through.
In the West End adaptation, Norton will play Jude, while “Bridgerton” star Luke Thompson will star as Willem. Douglas will play JB while Zach Wyatt will be Malcolm.
Other cast members include: Elliot Cowan (Brother Luke/Doctor Traylor/Caleb), Zubin Varla (Harold), Nathalie Armin (Ana) and Emilio Doorgasingh (Andy).
The production previews at Richmond Theatre from March 14-18, ahead of opening in the West End at the Harold Pinter Theatre on March 30, with previews from March 24. The show runs through to June 18.
Yanagihara said of the West End adaptation: “One of the greatest, most unexpected joys and honours in my life has been watching as more readers than I could ever have imagined have taken ‘A Little Life’ and its characters into their hearts over the past seven years. One of those readers was the visionary Ivo van Hove, and I’m thrilled he’s bringing his interpretation of the book to London next spring, with the most extraordinary cast I could have hoped for. This is a singular production, unlike anything I’ve seen before on stage; I hope audiences will be as transported and astonished as I was.”
Van Hove added: “It’s a joy to be returning to the London stage, to a community that has made us feel so welcome, and especially to be bringing Hanya’s incredible novel ‘A Little Life’ to the stage in the English language for the first time – quite genuinely a dream come true. I’m looking forward to beginning rehearsals with this extraordinary and committed group of actors to reveal the work afresh for audiences from across the U.K.”