Strong culture and even stronger women dominate Meghan Kennedy’s captivating coming of age drama, Napoli, Brooklyn.

A powerful portrayal of Italian-American life in 1950s New York, it explores the struggle in immigrant families which is passed down from generation to generation, particularly for women. And it is pulling in the crowds this week at the Oxford Playhouse

Set in Brooklyn, it’s a story of strong women taking risks to define a generation as they are forced to confront their conflicting visions for the future in a provocative portrait of love in all its danger and beauty.

It stars Oxford University graduate Hannah Bristow, who previously appeared in the National Theatre production of Jane Eyre.

“It is a play which looks at the experiences of an Italian immigrant family in New York and how those experiences affect the complex family dynamic – those times we should forgive and forget, and the times we shouldn’t; the way how sometimes we seek comfort and solace within a world of set routines,” says the alumnus of The Queen’s College.

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It also features Georgia May Foote (Coronation Street, Grange Hill), Mona Goodwin (Black Mirror), Stephen Hogan (The Tudors, Primeval), Gloria Onitiri (Brighton Rock), Robert Cavanah (Shetland), Madeleline Worrall (Peter Pan, Jane Eyre) and Laurie Ogden (To Kill a Mockingbird).

“It is so exciting to bring something new like this to an audience,” says Hannah.

“It is lovely to perform in something like Romeo & Juliet, but most people know exactly what happens in the end and a fair-few can probably quote the lines along with you.

"This is also a play by a contemporary author and, although set in the 1950s, it covers issues that are still very relevant in today’s world."

Directed by Lisa Blair, whose recent credits include the five-star revival of Jerusalem, the play tells the story of Nic and Luda Muscolino, who have raised three proud and passionate daughters, each of bonded by a fierce love for one another and harbouring a secret longing that could tear the family apart.

When an earth-shattering event rocks their Park Slope neighbourhood, life comes to a halt and the sisters are forced to confront their conflicting visions for the future.

How did Hannah, who grew up in Leicester and trained at the Bristol Old Vic, go about creating a character so rooted in a very different culture?

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"When the characters are well-written it is a good starting point, and sometimes, as you read it, some things resonate as to how you would react in that situation," she explains.

"I am not much older than the character I am playing so I needed to channel my younger self and how I would have reacted then.

"We have also seen documentaries from the time, some featuring the Mother and Father of Meghan Kennedy who wrote this."

When did she discover her talent for acting?

"I always loved acting in plays and musicals, but many other actors I have heard have spoken of a lightbulb moment, a time in something where they just had that thought 'this is the profession I want to make a career of'. For me that came when I was appearing in Bugsy Malone."

And her inspiration?

"For me there is just one person – Olivia Coleman," she says.

"She appears in such a wide-range of programmes and genres and is superb whether it is on the television in Broadchurch or The Night Manager, or in feature films like Favourite. Plus, in real-life she seems so down to earth."

And, she says, she is enjoying being here.

"I was really looking forward to coming back to Oxford and especially the Playhouse," she says. "I appeared here while learning at the Bristol Old Vic School, but not since the renovations and the multi-coloured seats.

"As for Oxford itself, I think when you are studying here you don’t realise the grandeur of some of the places. When I come back I am always stunned by the beauty of some of the places, like the library where I studied."

Napoli, Brooklyn is a moving depiction of the relationship between the three Muscolino sisters.

If Hannah could hand-pick two other sisters, living, historic or fictional, who would you pick for herself?

"I really love Joni Mitchell’s music, especially the Blue Album, and it would be lovely to have her playing and singing in the bedroom," she starts.

"Then Elizabeth I. To rule the country as a queen when she did, and for what was then quite a long reign, was amazing."

And in terms of ambition, is there a role and a venue she would love to play?

"I would love to play Rosalind in As you like it," she says. "As to where, two completely different venues: The Olivier and the Minack Theatre in Cornwall.

"I love the idea of acting on a cliffside!"

* Tickets for Napoli, Brooklyn at Oxford Playhouse start at £10 and are available from the box office on 01865 305305 or at oxfordplayhouse.com