Theatre review - My Brilliant Friend

If you loved Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet then April De Angelis’s adaption at the National will not disappoint.

It’s long - two parts, running for just over five hours - but Ferrante’s novels were between 330 and 470 pages so Angelis has done a phenomenal job.

My Brilliant Friend follows the friendship (and falling out) of Lenù Greco (Niamh Cusack) and Lila (Catherine McCormack) who grow up in a poor, working-class district of Naples and try to make something of themselves.  

It’s also the story of the female struggle for equality in a macho Italy from the 1950s to the turn of the century.

They first meet as children and are fiercely competitive at school where Lila quickly outshines Lenù. Then Lila’s father refuses to let her continue her studies, while Lenù manages to win a scholarship, enrols at university and becomes a writer.

Their local community is presided over by the Solara brothers (Adam Burton and Ira Mandela Siobhan) and their ferocious mother (Emily Mytton).

What tests the woman’s friendship most is, inevitably, a man, Nino Sarratore (Ben Turner), who Lenù has loved since she was twelve but whose heart Lila wins first.

The brilliance of Ferrante’s work (which Angelis sustains) is the way she ensures our sympathy shifts between the two. At first, we feel for Lila who is left behind while Lenù gains recognition in her studies, then Lila’s selfish seduction of Nino causes us to side with Lenù. Just who is the brilliant friend?

Melly Still’s stylish production is as sprawling and magisterial as Ferrante’s original work. The Olivier’s vast stage is, by turn, transformed into a busy city square, a sea shore, a shoe shop and a sausage factory. Music and video are used to great effect and the ensemble cast is terrific. Unmissable.

Originally published by Islington Tribune

National Theatre 
Running until February 22
020 7452 3000