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Posts Tagged ‘April de Angelis’

It seems to me that adapting Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels for the stage is hugely ambitious, not that I’ve read them, and though there’s much to enjoy in Melly Stills’ terrific production of April De Angelis’ adaptation, it didn’t quite come off for me.

It has an epic span of sixty years, with forty-six characters, combining the personal story of two women with the concurrent history of a city and the socio-political history of a country. Lenu and Lila are working class Naples girls, who we first meet when they are eight as they become best friends. Their lives diverge when Lila’s very traditional parents force her to leave school, whilst Lenu continues at school, then becomes one of the first in their neighbourhood to go to University.

Lenu moves into academia and becomes a writer, marries a professor, moves to Florence and has two children, but struggles to remain a successful author. Feisty Lila is much more of a rebel and leaves her marriage to ‘the boy next door’, a puppet of gangsters, for a rather wild life that starts with factory work but leads her to fighting for workers and women’s rights and brushes with terrorists and gangsters before she marries a local boy again and sets up a business. Their lives converge again when Lenu leaves her husband for a old flame, returning to Naples.

They’ve captured the edginess of Naples very well and Soutra Gilmor’s set of four movable steps with projections, shadows and silhouettes is impressionistic and very evocative. There’s so much story that it is inevitably episodic, but the staging is very inventive, using every trick in the book, including puppetry and stylised movement; the fights, riots, killings and an earthquake (!) are particularly well staged, some gruesomely. You have to keep your wits about you to keep up, though, as it occasionally fails to signpost something that can derail you. An excellent cast of twenty-three actors play all forty-six roles, led by Niamh Cusack as Lenu and Catherine McCormack as Lila.

I admired the production and performances more than I liked the storytelling. I’m not sure they could have done a better job, except perhaps lengthening it and turning it from two parts into three. I’m glad I went, though. I admired the ambition and the inventiveness.

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The roll at the Court continues. This is the seventh gem in the main house in less than two years – that’s some roll.

This one revolves around the mid-life crisis of Hilary and in particular her relationship with teenage daughter Tilly. Her marriage is dull, her job is at risk and her actor best friend is bonkers. What preoccupies her most, though, is her daughter – her schooling and her sexual awakening. Tilly’s best friend gets pregnant as she starts sleeping with boyfriend Josh and from here we’re on an emotional rollercoaster that brings in Josh’s parents and another boy who Tilly brings home. Even these very liberal middle class professionals are severely challenged by the awesome challenge of parenthood during these teenage years.

Anyone of a certain age (mine!), whether they’ve had kids or not, will find this all totally believable (I suspect playwright April de Angelis has written, at least in part, from experience), but anyone of any age will find much to enjoy here. The characterisations are terrific and the writing sharp and funny, but at times also very moving with a really heart-warming but unsentimental ending. Compared with the other five de Angelis plays I’ve seen, this is on another level altogether. Director Nina Raine has done a terrific job, with simple white settings from Lizzie Clachan which ensure the pace isn’t slowed down by scene changes (and with a very clever transformation to a seaside setting).

Tasmin Grieg has done some wonderful work in recent years – she was a great Beatrice for the RSC and followed this with a trio of excellent performances in modern plays – Gethsemane, God of Carnage and the under-rated The Little Dog Laughed – and here she is simply terrific. She IS Hilary; every expression, shrug and glance conveying what she’s going through. Bel Powley as Tilly and Seline Hizli as her friend Lyndsey are both outstanding, the former perfectly capturing the love / hate conflict that most teenagers go through with their parents. I also liked Richard Lintern and Sarah Woodward as Josh’s parents with different perspectives on their son’s responsibilities, and Doon Mackichan is a hoot as best friend Frances (to say more would constitute a spoiler).

This is a very satisfying evening of theatre – though-provoking & funny, leaving you with a warm glow and a sense of hope. Miss at your peril.

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