Drama queens reign in Windsor
Take four strong women, add one violent man and you've got more drama than Meghan's birth plan. Napoli, Brooklyn makes its UK premiere in Windsor and it's all kicking off.
Why are plays just not that popular outside of London? It is a common problem in regional theatres across the country, but I feel so bad for the actors playing to so many empty seats. Perhaps everyone was peering round the walls of Windsor Castle to catch a glimpse of Meghan, Hazza and Baby Archie, during my visit on Wednesday night.
Now that Line of Duty, Fleabag and every other boxset bingeathons have bitten the dust on the gogglebox, let’s seek our dramatic pauses elsewhere. Come on Berkshire, shoe horn youselves off of the sofa and get a theatrical culture fix – I reckon Napoli, Brooklyn is right up your street.
This week American playwright Meghan Kennedy premiered her play’s first outing on UK soil in Windsor, before it transfers to north London’s Park Theatre Set in 1960, we follow the Muscolini family. Super-strict father, Nic, and mama Luda – immigrants from Naples – both wrestling with the lingo and lifestyle. They live with their three daughters in a Brooklyn tenement who are more American than Italian, with a distinctive New York honk, love of rock ‘n’ roll, boys, girls and a loosening of their Catholic faith.
Told through short, cinematic-style scenes, we discover the sisters fighting (literally) for more freedom and love – hampered by their violent father (played by the brilliant Robert Cavanagh) who left his old life for the milk and honey (or whatever the Catolic equivalent) of New York, but weirdly doesn’t seem to enjoy it – especially where his daughters are concerned.
Sixteen year old, Francesca Muscolino (Hannah Bristow), who has grown up sharing a bed with her older sisters, longs for France, smoking cigarettes, living her life without judgement as a lesbian with girlfriend Connie. But cutting off her curls to create helmet hair (oh we’ve all learned that lesson), enrages her father who calls her ‘disgusting’ and threatens to cut her throat out.
Her sister Vita, a smart, mouthy 20-year-old, saves ‘Cesca from Nic by brandishing a pair of scissors in his face. She’s swiftly banished to a convent to chill out with the nuns, nursing a broken nose and two ribs for her trouble. But on the bright sided, the nun’s veil she’s nicked acts “like a goddamn spotlight for my cheekbones”.
The eldest Tina, 26, was denied an education to help support the others, works in a factory and discovers an education will be her golden ticket outta there. Timid Tina (Mona Goodwin) starts to find her voice in the quiet company of Celia (Gloria Onitiri) – a black woman from Queens who’s following her American dream.
Despite the high drama of the three young women, it is their mother Luda who is the real drama queen. She loves her girls, is a self-confessed brilliant cook ‘I am the best’, cannot cry without an onion, flirts with Mr Duffy (Stephen Hogan), the butcher with the lilting Irish accent, but in Madeleine Worrall’s passionate performance, she longs for the love of Nic, despite the fact he’s an abusive pig. You’re silently screaming at her to leave him, but that’s just not how Italian Catholics roll.
The pivotal moment in Napoli, Brooklyn, is a game changer, so I’m not going to spoil it. But life changing events have a habit of bursting big dream bubbles – at least for a bit. The family paper over the cracks: Nic is a changed man, dressing up for dinner and dancing to Mario Lanza on the radio, but ultimately cannot be something he’s not. And the rest of the family come to the same conclusion.
The acting is terrific across the board, but Hannah Bristow’s Francesca and Georgia May Foote as Vita are both exceptional – in their funny yet fiery roles. Robert Cavanah brings a strength and menace to Nic, proving that loving the bad boy is not all it’s cracked up to be. Lots of light and shade, love and hate and, er, onions.
You can see Napoli, Brooklyn at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Sat 11 May.