Tuesday, 18 June 2019

REVIEW: Napoli, Brooklyn at the Park Theatre



Theatre can be powerful and emotionally engaging when you have a great script, brilliant cast and a strong production and a story routed in reality but with a strong message for todays’ society. Napoli, Brooklyn at the Park 200 Theatre is such a production – faultless moving storytelling and a message for all of us to “learn to take people how they are”. Written by a woman, directed by a woman and with a mainly female cast it does not really need the mother to tell us “women are the strongest ones”.

Meghan Kennedy’s story is set in an Italian immigrant community in New York in 1960 and the simple but effective set by Frankie Bradshaw creates the sense of location from the start with the Italian meat hanging above the cooker, four catholic Virgin Marys dotted around the stage and a Bush radio on the table. We hear the kids playing outside as the planes fly overhead. It seamlessly and quickly doubles for other locations in the community, the butchers, the factory, and the convent with precise tight lighting by Johanna Town.

Into this space we find the Italian Mamma, Luda (a wonderful performance from Madeleine Worrall), no longer able to cry even with an onion held against her eye, her emotions suppressed by the powerful towering figure of her bullying husband Nic (a strong gritty performance from Robert Cavanah) and the responsibility for bringing up her three daughters. You feel her love and fear in equal measure.

Each Family member is superbly characterised and played. Vita (played as a beaten soul by Georgia May Foote) is confined to a convent following a family fight that left her with broken nose and smashed knee. It is the last place she wants to be as she says “I have been with lots of boys” but is fearful of going home. She reflects her father’s spirit and is unforgiving.

Tina (a restrained Mona Goodwin) is the stable reliable daughter who works in the factory boxing tiles. She reflects her father’s strength but befriends fellow worker Celia (Gloria Onitiri) who he can’t even look at.

Francesca (a spirited Hannah Bristow) is the youngest at sixteen who is love with her neighbour Connie (Laurie Ogden) and plans to stowaway to France- Her mother says, “it’s a stupid plan but I like it”. She reflects her father’s tongue and portrays the youthful adventurer with great energy and desire.

They all pray to God but without much expectation of any support or help –
“Where is God in all of this”. The tension bubbles under every scene of the father’s lost love for Luda, his desire to have boys rather than girls and the daughters desire to escape his tyranny but not sure how to. When a plane crashes killing six of the community on the ground in the butchers and local Church (a dramatically innovative piece of staging) the father appears to mellow having been saved when he fell from the building into the snow. However, the tension explodes into a powerful and sensational denouement as Albert (Stephen Hogan) and Celia share a Christmas Lunch with the family.

There is a lovely line from Francesca in the first half, “in the depth of winter, I’ve found an invincible summer” and as the community is devasted each faces the reality of their situation and to help each other to find a new way forward in which they can be themselves and not live the lie. It’s a powerful message for all of us to look for a positive way forward to find our own voice and help other to achieve theirs, especially those who are immigrants to the community.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Circle row A | Price of ticket: £18

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