'Filumena' review or 'I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!'

'Filumena', by Eduardo De Filippo. A new version by Tanya Ronder
Almeida Theatre, Thursday 22nd March 2012
Written for The Ham & High 

Samantha Spiro and Clive Wood

Once upon a time, there was a lady named Filumena who was 'saved' from a brothel in Naples and taken in by the wealthy, Domenica. But, after 27 years of living in sin, Filumena wants more for herself and her three, secret and illegitimate sons. She wants a name, wealth and social standing. Will the wily Filumena manage to carve out a fairytale ending for her family?

Eduardo De Filippo wrote 'Filumena' in the late 1940s – a time of great flux in Italy, following the fall of Mussolini. It's no wonder his audiences craved a bit of escapism. But, today, although Filippos' play contains a few fierce monologues, this is cosily entertaining but fairly fluffy stuff.

The sun-soaked set, designed by Robert Jones, boasts looming lemon trees and a rainbow of flowers. This romantic backdrop – all colour and no grit - hints at things to come. The characters are bright but damn broad, too. Clive Wood is amusing as the blustering and preening Domenico but it's a fairly thin, almost Flintstone-esque, role. Filumena's sons, and their occupations, read like a nursery rhyme: the pompous shop owner, the big hearted plumber and the sensitive writer.

Filumena (Samanath Spiro) is the one substantial role and her monologues occasionally transport this play beyond the realms of feel-good entertainment. Filumena's description of her lonely childhood, bleak horizons and sad pragmatism, is sharp and searing. Spiro does not romanticize her role and she is brave but bloody minded, too.

Michael Attenborough's productions will always be polished but this play is a touch too shiny. This superficiality is enhanced by Tanya Ronder's slightly jarring translation. Ronder's script is too casual and phrases like 'arrogant twit' and 'bitch on heat', far from familiarising the play, undermine the piece and make it hard to take too seriously.


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