“Her heart is big, it knows how to hear another heart and love it”

‘Napoli, Brooklyn’ was first staged in New York, The Original Theatre Company have launched the premier UK tour of this play. Writer Meghan Kennedy tells how her script was based on her mother’s Italian Catholic adolescence in 1960s America. Although the story is set in this period it deals with the enduring universal issues facing struggling immigrant families and the tensions between the generations.

The tale feels familiar, writers and directors like Arthur Miller to Martin Scorsese have covered this territory. However what’s fresh here is the female focus. Of the 8 person cast, 6 are women. This gives us different voices, different experiences and keeps the narrative distinct from the male centric stories that we’ve heard before.

The stage lights up in a New York apartment with cold meats hanging from a line over a large cooking pot set on a hob. The key pieces of furniture are an austere cast iron bed and a simple dining table with chairs. There are three Virgin Mary statues set across the floor and a cross on the wall. We see clearly how important religion and food are in this cash strapped home. The play opens with an Italian mother, Luda, having a touching conversation with God as she cuts onions for a family meal. Madeleine Worral plays this maternal role with moving sincerity as Luda’s anguish and insights guide us through the drama.

Her three daughters Tina, Vita and Francesca are each reaching adulthood and struggling to find their own ways to express themselves and realise their youthful dreams and hopes. Meanwhile, their oppressive father, Nic, emanates an atmosphere of darkness, shrouding his daughters with his own disappointment and unfulfilled dreams.

A pivotal moment in the story is based on the real-life plane collision that brought tragedy to residential Brooklyn. We see how it affects this family and their community. Albert, the local Irish butcher and father of Connie, Francesca’s school friend along with Celia, Tina’s friend and work colleague bring their experiences of the crash home for Christmas dinner. All of the actors perform well, each conveying their struggles with engaging authenticity.

This festive meal is the classic opportunity for characters to reveal their true feelings. The tensions between the cultural directive to be warm, polite and convivial and the real emotions bubbling so close to the surface soon have the drama escalating to boiling point.

This relatable play explores how families tear themselves apart and how love knits them together.