Filumena - review

Posted on: 10 April 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews a new production of Eduardo De Filippo's comedic tale of wartime poverty.

FilumenaA star turn from warm and magnetic actress Samantha Spiro as an illiterate Neapolitan woman with a troubled past lights up Michael Attenborough’s new production of Eduardo De Filippo’s 1946 comedy Filumena.

In the balmy heat of late 40s Naples, Filumena, a former prostitute, lie on her deathbed waiting to marry prosperous businessman Domenico Soriano, the man who has kept her as his mistress for twenty-five years. But no sooner has the priest completed the ceremony than Filumena makes a miraculous recovery. As he reels in shock, Domenico discovers that this brilliant, iron-willed woman has another big surprise for him – all these years she has been artfully milking the housekeeping and selling off Domenico’s suits to support her three sons from the brothel years. She then invites them round but these young men, one a plumber, another a tailor, and the third a writer, know nothing about her or each other. Is Filumena’s intention to create a family for her children or is she merely an opportunistic prostitute?

This 66-year-old piece is an Italian favourite and is staged in a colloquial new version by Tanya Ronder that is lively and does not appear dated although it is not especially Latin in flavour. What might have appeared daring in the forties, now appears a bit alight but still fresh and funny.

Robert Jones’s sun-drenched set fringes the action with lush foliage, an array of colourful flowers and even a towering lemon tree that puts you in mind of golden holidays in the Mediterranean.

But it is the charming and affecting performance of Samantha Spiro, who last year was so memorable in Wesker’s Chicken Soup With Barley at the Royal Court, that really stands out here as Filumena, harsh and combative initially – her survivor’s toughness in escaping from wartime poverty is passionately conveyed – then softening and revealing a vulnerable side to her character. She is strongly supported by Clive Wood who captures the hulking insensitivity of Domenico, while Sheila Reid is engaging as the loyal maid Rosalia.

It is Spiro, though, who invests her character with real depth and emotion that makes this such a joyous evening in the theatre.

Almeida Theatre, Islington, London N1

Runs until May 12

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