17 June 2019 (released)
19 June 2019
One of Meghan Kennedy’s earliest commissioned works, Napoli Brooklyn is an epic family drama, loosely based on her mother’s childhood, in a big Italian immigrant family in 1960’s Brooklyn, New York. It’s a rich and colourful world with specific cultural and historical details, yet its theme of strong women who find their voice despite being subjected to male aggression and social oppression resonates powerfully today. Equally interesting is the exploration of the forces that have shaped their angry father who unlike the women, completely loses his identity in America. Kennedy’s fascination with the need for immigrant families struggle to find a voice and how this struggle is passed down the generations, is brought to life with a vibrant cast of characters in the small space of the Park Theatre.
Nic and Luda have emigrated from Napoli and had three daughters born in America. When the show opens, the youngest Francesca (Hannah Bristow) is in love with her best friend and plans to stow away to Paris where they can love each other freely. The eldest, Tina (Mona Goodwin) works tirelessly in a factory where she makes a friend who awakens her to the possibility of escaping poverty and the middle daughter, Vita (Georgia May Foote) fiery and out-spoken, has been sent away to a convent for fear of provoking her father to further acts of violence.
Madeleine Worrall plays their irrepressible mother with warmth and energy. She loves to cook (pasta obviously) tell stories and fight with God, surviving life with her wild daughters and husband who terrorises the family with his dark moods and violence. Without wanting to give the plot away, it is clear that these women are not going to be victims forever and the psychological under-pinning for Nic (Robert Cavanah) gives complexity to the abusive figure. What makes this a very watchable night of theatre is the love between the sisters and their mother. That said, probably the most tender moment takes place between the Irish butcher and Rita’s friend played by Stephen Hogan and Gloria Onitiri, who join the family for an explosive Christmas dinner and reach out to each other over their shared grief.
Frankie Bradshaw’s set consists of a sleek white box stage dressed with statues of the Virgin Mary and salami’s hanging from the ceiling to set us firmly in catholic Italian world. Despite stylised touches in design and direction by Lisa Blair, Napoli, Brooklyn is for the most part thoroughly naturalistic with a novelistic air. The joy lies in the chance to explore a large and engaging cast of characters and their interlocking lives. The challenge is pulling the many short scenes and settings together without losing the audience along the way. Although the English cast don’t always convince as Italian or American, they succeed in drawing us into their emotional world and we share each characters longing to escape family, poverty or social constraints so that they can be truly themselves.