A review of the British stage production of “My Brilliant Friend”

Three years ago, it took me almost three months, but I completed my summer/autumn reading project: to read the four works and 1700 pages that make up the ‘Neapolitan Novels’, an acclaimed series by the Italian author Elena Ferrante.

This is a saga of the 60-year friendship between two girls from a poor neighbourhood of Naples after the Second World War: the narrator Elena Greco, known as Lenu, who becomes an accomplished writer and Raffaella Cerullo, known as Lila, whose never leaves Naples.

The first novel in the series is called “My Brilliant Friend” and I reviewed it here. The second novel is titled “The Story Of A New Name” and you can read my review here. The third novel is “Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay” and I reviewed it here. The fourth and final novel in the chronicle is called “The Story Of The Lost Child” and you’ll find my review here.

Now that I live on London’s South Bank, the National Theatre is only a 10 minute walk away and this week, for the first time, I was at the theatre at 9.30 am to obtain cheap same-day tickets. Parts One and Two of “My Brilliant Friend” – starting at 1.30 pm and 7 pm respectively – cost me only £15 each.

The two plays take over five hours in total to cover all four Neapolitan Novels. Niamh Cusack plays Lenu, while Catherine McCormack is Lila, for the six decades of the narrative. The work is adapted by playwright April de Angelis and directed by Melly Still.

It is a hugely ambitious set of plays both in scope and style. Critics have loved it and the Canadian theatre graduate sitting by me really admired it. Even allowing for the fact that I much prefer the cinema to the theatre, I was disappointed by the work, primarily because it seemed to me to lose the essentially Italian nature of the story.

The actors use a range of accents from around the British Isles and both the music and video material are far too generic for a tale that is all about post-war impoverished Naples and the complicated relationship between two Neapolitan women.


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