A Little Life: James Norton set to star in West End adaption of Hanya Yanagihara’s bestseller

 (Justin Tallis/ AFP/Getty Images)
(Justin Tallis/ AFP/Getty Images)

James Norton is set to star in an upcoming stage adaption of American editor and novelist Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 best seller, A Little Life.

The adaption is set to come to the West End for a 12-week run at the Harold Pinter Theatre, starting in March.

Award-winning Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove, whose acclaimed productions include A View from the Bridge, which went to the West End and Broadway, West Side Story and Network at the National Theatre, is set to direct.

The cast includes Bridgerton’s Luke Thompson, alongside Omari Douglas, who was in It’s a Sin, The Witcher’s Zach Wyatt, The Crown’s Elliot Cowan and Tammy Faye’s Zubin Varla. Nathalie Armin (Force Majeure) and Emilio Doorgasingh (The Kite Runner) will also have roles.

This will be the first English-language adaption of the novel: Van Hove first reimagined A Little Life with his theatre company International Theater Amsterdam (previously known as Toneelgroep Amsterdam) in 2018, before taking the show to the Edinburgh International Festival and to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2022. It had a running time of 4 hours and 10 minutes, was performed in Dutch with English supertitles and Van Hove worked with Yanagihara on the script.

A Little Life was highly acclaimed upon its publication, being shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015, and shortlisted for the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the 2015 (US) National Book Award for Fiction and the 2016 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

It details the lives of four friends Jude St Francis (who will be played by Norton), Willem Ragnarsson (Thompson), Malcolm Irvine (Wyatt) and Jean-Baptiste (Douglas), though the novel increasingly focuses on Jude as it develops.

Zach Wyatt (Malcolm) ,James Norton (Jude), Omari Douglas (JB) and Luke Thompson (Willem) (Handout / image by Charlie Gray/ A Little Life / Harold Pinter Theatre)
Zach Wyatt (Malcolm) ,James Norton (Jude), Omari Douglas (JB) and Luke Thompson (Willem) (Handout / image by Charlie Gray/ A Little Life / Harold Pinter Theatre)

Jude is a highly intelligent disabled lawyer, who has a spinal injury, experiences excruciating pain in his legs, self-harms and suffers from mental trauma which is the result of the sexual abuse he suffered when he was young. In the New Yorker, Parul Sehgal called Jude “one of the most accursed characters to ever darken a page”.

While some critics argued that the extreme documentation of Jude’s suffering and the sheer amount of, as the New York Times’ Janet Maslin put it, “wild beasts prowling” through the pages, was unnecessary, most reviewers found Yanagihara’s handling of the delicate subject matter neither sensationalist nor excessive.

In an October 2022 review of Ivo van Hove’s adaptation, The New York Times said: “A character study that descends into misery on the page is an aesthetic experience suited to the form — you can put down a book whenever you want. But there are only so many times you can look away over the course of a four-hour show.”

However, in a review shared on the Edinburgh International Festival website, The Financial Times said: “This is Van Hove at his best, theatre that leaves an ineradicable mark.”

Speaking to the BBC this week, Van Hove said: “The book is a kind of a mystery, because it became a huge bestseller... It’s a little bit strange because it talks about cruel things, about a traumatic experience that haunts somebody for the rest of his life. But after all these years, every night, theatres are full, people are moved, sometimes angry, but it creates a very visceral reaction.”

Speaking about the new English-language adaptation, Yanagihara said, “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.”

A Little Life opens at the Harold Pinter Theatre on March 25, tickets from £15, haroldpintertheatre.co.uk/shows/a-little-life