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My Brilliant Friend at the Rose Theatre Kingston – Review

My Brilliant Friend Part 1. Toby Wharton (Nino) and Catherine McCormack (Lila). Photo credit Marc Brenner
My Brilliant Friend Part 1. Toby Wharton (Nino) and Catherine McCormack (Lila). Photo credit Marc Brenner

A friendship consisting of pain, care, anger, admiration, envy, love and understanding proves it’s worth over time. When a woman finds that special friend, the one who will stand by her side through it all, they make an oath, “Whatever we do, we do on purpose and together.” That promise ties two best friends together through every trial and grace of life in the stunning production My Brilliant Friend.

The world premiere of Elena Ferrante’s four-volume work Neapolitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend is a two-part dramatization of a female friendship in post-war Italy.

Starring Niamh Cusack (Lenù) and Catherine McCormack (Lila), this two-part production tells a story of passion, violence, ambition, intelligence and self-destruction, and how two friends manage to stand by one another through all circumstances of life. April De Angelis’ adaptation of Ferrante’s novels wholly captures the depth of female friendships. Cusack and McCormack’s exceptional performances, along with the entire skilful cast, captivated the audience with this powerful and heartbreaking story.

My Brilliant Friend Part 2. Niamh Cusack (Lenu). Photo credit Marc Brenner
My Brilliant Friend Part 2. Niamh Cusack (Lenu). Photo credit Marc Brenner

One unexpected aspect of the production was the delicate use of puppetry. In times of abuse or violence, they used a piece of clothing or blanket to perform as the actress. Seeing a satin robe – a fine piece of clothing – run from a violent situation allowed for our imagination to take hold and emotionally react to the possibility of any woman running from abuse. The spirit was being beaten, as the body took the blows. Using puppetry made those scenes seem like a dream, as if the women were reflecting back on a faded memory.

Soutra Gilmour’s set and costume designs gave this production an aged appearance.

As styles of fashion shift over each act, the cast’s outfits progress from the early 1950s style to modern 2000s fashion. With the exception of Lenù who dawns a shabby blue dress throughout the entire production, everyone around her grows into the new fashion as a representation of change in their lives. The colours of the costumes blended well with the sepia tones of the set and were enhanced by Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design. The warmth of the colours made the production feel timeworn, but the use of lighting directed the emotion behind each scene.

My Brilliant Friend Part 2. Photo credit Marc Brenner
My Brilliant Friend Part 2. Photo credit Marc Brenner

Needless to say, the acting was superb as the actors played a wide range of roles. Even though there were many stories happening all at once with a variety of characters, De Angelis tied the entire series together amazingly well in four acts. My Brilliant Friend is truly a wonderful and honest piece about the complexity of female relationships and the everlasting bond that unites women in lifelong friendships.

5 Star Rating

Review by Alyssa Chromy

World Premiere of a two-part dramatization of Elena Ferrante’s epic family saga. Adapted for the stage by April De Angelis and directed by Melly Still.

Elena Ferrante’s intense portrait of an all-consuming female friendship in post-war Italy is brought to life for the first time on the Rose stage.

This modern family saga chronicles the lives of friends, Elena and Lila, following them from their childhoods in a poor, tough neighbourhood of Naples, through passionate love affairs, burgeoning careers and family struggles. But even as life repeatedly tries to pull the two in separate directions, Elena and Lila remain inextricably bound to one another.

A powerful story of love, violence, sex, ambition, genius and self-destruction, the two-part play is an exploration not just of female friendship and rivalry, but of Italy after the war and the decades of political turmoil and cultural change that followed.

My Brilliant Friend
25 February – 2 April 2017
Rose Theatre Kingston
24-26 High Street
London KT1 1HL
Running Time: Both Part 1 and Part 2 are 2.5 hours including a 20-minute interval.

Book Tickets for My Brilliant Friend

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