Eduardo De Filippo in a new version by Tanya Ronder
Almeida Theatre

Samantha Spiro and Clive Wood Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Samantha Spiro and Clive Wood Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Sheila Reid Credit: Hugo Glendinning

In Michael Attenborough's eyes, Filumena builds through acts one and two like an impending farce. This is the consequence of a script featuring larger than life central characters and their louche secrets, which tumble out in an uncomfortable situation.

The drama is played out in the sunny, Robert Jones-designed Neapolitan courtyard of wealthy Don Domenico, some time soon after the Second World War.

Samantha Spiro is sympathetic and entirely convincing as the canny heroine, a former Neapolitan prostitute coming to terms with herself and maturity by seeking marriage and a settled future for almost everyone observed during the play.

Despite illiteracy, this tough cookie has the ability to bend men to her whims and does so with satisfying alacrity, frequently aided by her main ally, Sheila Reid's Rosalia.

As the play opens, Filumena wittily tricks the ageing roué Don Domenico into a deathbed marriage from which she arises healthily triumphant. Clive Wood makes the most of the latter role, protesting too much and never more so than after a richly comic scene when his latest young thing, well under half the lustful Lothario's age, gets the shock of her life.

From there, the older couple joust like Beatrice and Benedick, inevitably moving through a series of explosive interchanges towards a happy life together.

Eduardo De Filippo injects a moral dimension with Filumena's three secret sons, played by Brodie Ross, Luke Norris and Richard Riddell. They are deliberately differentiated, a bespectacled writer, an egotistical Don Juan and a hard-working plumber who already has four children by his mid-20s.

The big question is who has fathered them and Filumena (or to be more exact De Filippo), spices up the quest for knowledge nicely, asking the audience to consider serious issues hidden beneath much good-natured laughter.

The play lasts a mere two hours but consistently entertains and challenges in this new version by Tanya Ronder. It also showcases some excellent acting, especially from the two leads.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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