I may be one of the only people in the world who’s not read Elena Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan Novels’, but I can’t say that stopped me enjoying this epic staging of them one bit. In fact, even after a full 5 hours of viewing, I wanted more.
Due to me not knowing the books, I must admit that for perhaps the first hour I was doing a fair amount of ‘working things out’. Once I’d got my bearings however, I was all consumed by the world of ‘Lila’ and ‘Lenu’, and very quickly they felt like old childhood favourites, in the way that Harry, Ron and Hermione are to me.
The play follows the life of Elena Ferrante (also known as ‘Lenu’) and her friend ‘Lila’ as they journey through six decades of troubled Neapolitan life, on a backdrop of social and political unrest. These two highly intelligent, fiercely strong women are a wonder to behold. Suffering an irrevocable amount of damage by way of heart ache, bereavement, abuse, (both mental and physical), at the hands of the misogynistic world with which they grew up and continue to live in.
The story unfolds to show how they both in very different ways seem to fight to survive it all despite all the obstacles life throws at them.
Having not read the books I cannot say if the casting of Niamh Cusak and Catherine McCormack was true to the ‘Lenu’ and ‘Lila’ of the Novels, but what I can say is that they were incredible.
Cusak brings an apprehensive sensitivity to ‘Lenu’ which masks her sense of self-importance. It is only as we journey through time with her that the latter begins to creep to the forefront and we truly question how ‘good’ she really is.
McCormack is in for the kill from the very start, she seems to have been created for a role such as this. She switches from quick witted school girl, to sophisticated Italian wife, and straight into shabby down-trodden meat factory worker. The fluidity with which she makes these changes is in perfect keeping with ‘Lila’s’ constant chameleon like personality; adapting to survive.
Along side these two great actors is a cast of ten, who between them take on the rest of the characters. I’m sure there will be some people who argue that a small cast playing multiple roles leads to confusion or prevents the actors formulating full characters. There will also be those who say that the jumping through time periods can feel disjointed. But having now witnessed the play I’d have to respectfully disagree with both.
I’d argue that with such a great source of material, there had to be strong script choices and if anything this play acts as one hell of an epic trailer to entice people to read Ferrante’s Novels; which I definitely intend to do!
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ An epic in all senses of the word, My Brilliant Friend is a compelling, often heartbreaking story which will draw you in from the moment you sit down.
I was lucky enough to get an extraordinarily affordable deal for Under 26’s. This meant my tickets for Part 1 and Part 2 where just £13.
*Photo credits: Marc Brenner