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Review Round-up: 'Spitfire' Spiro wins praise in Filumena

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A rare revival of Eduardo de Filippo’s Filumena opened last week (22 March, previews from 15 March) at the Almeida Theatre, starring Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Award-winner Samantha Spiro in the title role.

In 1940s Naples, ex-prostitute Filumena Marturano has been the mistress of Domenico Soriano (Clive Wood) for 25 years. Now on her deathbed, she’s determined to become his wife before her time is up. But as the ceremony is completed, Filumena miraculously recovers, revealing her cunning deception.  

The new English translation by Tanya Ronder is directed by Michael Attenborough. The cast also includes: Sheila Reid, Victoria Lloyd, Luke Norris, Emily Plumtree, Richard Riddell, Geoffrey Freshwater, Brodie Ross and Edmund Wiseman.

Filumena continues until 12 May 2012.

Michael Coveney

"Michael Attenborough’s revival… is jolly good, but it’s curiously inauthentic, too, and a bit too demure, despite the tangle of orange fire flowers climbing up the sun-baked walls of Domenico’s courtyard designed by Robert Jones and the constant chirruping birdsong on John Leonard’s soundtrack … Tanya Ronder’s ‘new English version’ (translated by whom, please?) is boldly non-Italianate … Samantha Spiro has a real spitfire quality and resilience … As a comic premise this must have gone down a treat in post-War Naples, but it’s hard to get worked up about it today, despite the best efforts of Clive Wood blustering for England as Domenico… and the rather coy participation of the grown-up sons. Michele (Richard Riddell) is a harassed married plumber; Riccardo (Luke Norris) a shirt-selling shopkeeper and, like ‘Dad,’ a ladies’ man, as they used to be called; and taciturn, bespectacled Umberto (Brodie Ross) a budding writer. Their performances are nicely pointed with little material ... And Sheila Reid and Geoffrey Freshwater twitter and harrumph nicely on the perimeter as domestic servants. But it’s a slight and over-cosy evening and not nearly as charming as you’d like.”

Libby Purves
The Times

“This spirited comedy hasn’t been around since Judi Dench’s run in 1999, but this new, fresh, slangy version by Tanya Ronder is such a delight that I will eat my hat… if Michael Attenborough’s production doesn’t move West and eclipse it. Samantha Spiro is a treasure as Filumena: harsh and combative at the start, though when the aged maid (a wraithlike treat played by Sheila Reid) relates how she supported sons she could never embrace, I swear a tear trembled in Spiro’s eye … The whole thing is a delight … For all the final warmth, Filumena’s bald account of the wartime slum poverty that led her to the brothel is darkly credible: the melting of her survivor’s toughness convinces as a painful release. And goodness, it looks beautiful! Robert Jones’ Italian courtyard is golden and flowery: award for Best Stage Foliage to the towering lemon tree. And while we’re scattering prizes around, without spoilers may I acknowledge Best Tuneless Mass Serenade, and certainly the best two-word choral speech ever to change an outcome. Look out for it.”

Sheila Reid, Samantha Spiro & Clive Wood in Filumena. Photo credit Hugo Glendinning
Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

“At the heart of Filumena is Samantha Spiro, a warm and magnetic actor giving a performance of great charm as an illiterate Neapolitan woman with a complicated past … Eduardo de Filippo’s 1946 piece … Is presented in a colloquial new version by Tanya Ronder that is lively, if not especially Latin in flavour. What must have seemed daring in the Forties feels a bit slight, yet a wealth of emotion is wrung from the script in Michael Attenborough’s production ... Robert Jones’ sun-drenched set fringes the action with lush foliage ... Clive Wood captures the hulking insensitivity of Domenico, while Sheila Reid makes a keen impression as the loyal maid Rosalia. But it’s Spiro who is the star ... Her attempts to redeem her past are passionately conveyed: she’s vigorous at first, yet when she softens she does so meltingly. Her character may have a reputation for not shedding tears, but Spiro suggests her vulnerability even as she evokes her steeliness. Her monologues and insults are delivered with twinkly conviction. It’s a performance that turns an implausible and somewhat limited play into a real pleasure.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

“Eduardo de Filippo’s Filumena is a good deed in a cynical world, but this Almeida production… would be better if it only gave vent to the play’s Latin soul … Robert Jones’ set goes some of the way: a bougainvillea climbs the wall of a terracotta courtyard. A large citrus tree provides shade … All may be set, but all is not seized. Michael Attenborough’s production is porcelain white, stiffly Anglo-Saxon, as Italian as an outing to Pizza Hut ... Domenico is played by Clive Wood … Wood may be a fine actor, but he is no Italian. He may essay a few Neapolitan hand gestures, but they seem alien to him. Another problem is the wooden English version of the play written by Tanya Ronder … Samantha Spiro is sparky and committed ... Sheila Reid flashes an amazing pair of eyes as aged maid Rosalia. I was less taken by Geoffrey Freshwater as a 60-year-old retainer, but three young local lads are adequately done by Brodie Ross, Luke Norris and Richard Riddell. The real charm of the night flows from the story. Domenico slowly allows mercy to conquer his behaviour. Filumena may start as a man-trapper, but she mends her ways and is given her due reward.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

”Not everything else in Michael Attenborough’s production matches its ravishing appearance ... Tanya Ronder’s new English version doesn’t help. Though the play is set shortly after the Second World War, her script is sprinkled with modern English colloquialisms and clichés such as ‘cut to the chase’, ‘no worries’ ‘sex addict’, ‘you tw—‘ and that vilest of modern weasel words, ‘inappropriate’. The dialogue puts one in mind of middle-management executives at a sales convention in Croydon rather than a disputatious family in Naples ... The rows between Spiro and Wood’s furious duped Domenico, who threatens murder armed only with a dessert spoon, are good fun. And the play becomes moving in Spiro’s touching performance when she describes the horrific poverty of her childhood in the slums which drove her into prostitution ... What the show requires is more pain and wilder comedy. At present it too often seems merely blandly benign.”

- Catherine Noonan


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