Review: Filumena – Almeida Theatre

There seems to be a line of strong women in Islington at the moment. No sooner has the Matriarchal Bernarda Alba left the Almeida Theatre, the feisty Neapolitan Filumena takes up residence. While though the former was obsessed with maintaining moral standards, the latter has a more relaxed approach.

For Filumena is a former ‘working girl’ from the slums of Naples. For 27 years she has been the mistress of wealthy Domenico but on her deathbed has persuaded Domenico to marry her. As soon as the nuptials are concluded though she stages a miraculous recovery and announces it was all a plan to aid her three illegitimate sons, one of whom could be fathered by Domenico.
As the three, initially blissfully unaware, sons are drawn into the deceit it looks unlikely that it will all end up as happy families.

Eduardo De Filippo’s look at 1940s Neapolitan class divide is somewhat of an unbalanced piece. While a lengthy first act builds up the required tension, concluding with a dramatic cliff hanger, the second, much shorter, second act jumps 10 months with a resolution that is never explained and lacking in that built up tension. In many ways it seems like a whole act has been deleted, leaving the audience wondering what occurred in the interval to so dramatically alter the course of events.

Michael Attenborough’s production looks stunning, with Robert Jones’ sun-kissed Neapolitan villa courtyard resplendent in orange hues. An orange tree, shuttered windows and balconies bedecked with flowers are the perfect advert for the Italian tourist board. Attenborough’s direction however, sometimes misses that fiery Italian passion needed to make this play truly come alive. While the sparring between Filumena and Domenico in Act One does hint at the tempestuous Latin temper, scenes with Domenico’s mistress and the three sons seem oddly restrained.

There are, however, fine performances from the cast. Samantha Spiro excels as Filumena, a masterclass in disdain and withering looks. You can see her analyse ever twist for opportunity and revenge, ever word considered for maximum impact. On the receiving end of Spiro’s acid tongue, Clive Wood physically wobbles but under the outwardly weaker exterior there is a man more than capable of as much deceit as Filumena.

There is fine support from Sheila Reid as Rosalia, a housekeeper more than able to dole out her own put downs, and Brodie Ross, Luke Norris and Richard Riddell as the trio of wildly differing sons brought into the arena for ulterior motives.

There’s much to enjoy here and Tanya Ronder’s translation zips along at a pace, however one can’t help feeling slightly short-changed by the short, weak second act lacking in real Latin passion.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

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