My Brilliant Friend, National Theatre - ★★★★ - Until February 22, 2020


Bringing Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels to the stage even in a two-part play is an enormous challenge. The sweep of events, the intricacy of the plot and the multitude of characters are a lot to take on. The National Theatre does so with its characteristically high standards of production. The story of two women who are lifelong friends and whose lives play out against the backdrop of post WW II Italy is a fascinating saga. Their growth and struggles mirror the forces at work in a society dealing with poverty, crime, sexism and social inequality. The novels reflect the battles of women trying to lead independent lives in a society where their oppression is not just a consequence of retrograde social attitudes, but an active political and social policy. How to hold on to a sense of self in the face of social pressures and personal desires becomes the central issue in the very different paths the friends, Lila and Lenú, choose. This is a complex and fascinating piece but even spread over two parts, it sometimes feels like the demands of the labyrinthine plot and powerful themes subsume the development of character. Niamh Cusack as Lenù and Catherine McCormack as Lila are commanding presences in this epic tale and they are well supported by the rest of the cast, often playing several roles. They do an excellent job at trying to keep their characters distinct for an audience who might feel somewhat overwhelmed by it all. Melly Still's direction brilliantly manages to weave the threads together and Soutra Gilmour's set is wonderfully versatile as scenes quickly change. Elena Ferrante's novels offer a narrative of operatic proportions and this production does an amazing job of bringing it to life.

Reviewed by J.C.

 Our Score:  ☆☆☆☆ 

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WHEN, WHERE, GETTING THERE:
Until February 22, 2020
Various show times available. See website below.
National Theatre
Nearest tube: Waterloo
https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/my-brilliant-friend

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