By Eduardo de Filippo
Directed by MIchael Attenborough
Venue: Alemida Theatre
Date: Wednesday 18th April 2012
It was good to see this one again. It’s been almost thirty years since we saw it at the Connaught, in the days of three-weekly rep (pause for a nostalgic sigh), and I remembered enjoying it then, even if I didn’t remember the story. The set was lovely, the performances all very good, and there were many loud laughs during the afternoon.
The set was wonderfully detailed, with an overall wash of sepia and lots of flowers everywhere creating a strong Mediterranean feel. The location was a small terrace inside a large house, with steps up to the first floor hidden away at the back, and doors to the kitchen and Domenico’s study on either side. Above the study doors was the balcony to Filumena’s room, and the terrace held a round table and several chairs, as well as a tree growing towards the back. The costumes were all in keeping too.
The story was relatively simple: Filumena, who has been Domenico’s mistress as well as running his business for many years, has faked a fatal illness to coerce Domenico to marry her. She’s done this to help her three sons, born when she was a prostitute, one of whom is apparently Domenico’s offspring. The boys are all grown men, but she wants them to know who their mother is and also give them a good name, Domenico’s name, in fact, while she still has a chance. In the process she sees off a much younger rival and overcomes Domenico’s natural anger and resentment at being tricked, to create a happy family situation for all of her children. It’s all the more impressive because, in her situation, the normal solution to pregnancy would be an abortion; she chose to have her children and arranged for their upbringing against the prevailing ethos, and if she had to rob Domenico in the process, so be it!
The morality of her actions was never really an issue given the poverty of that part of Naples where she grew up. The prostitutes were regarded with respect because they were actually earning money and could feed and clothe themselves. And if she did take Domenico’s money to raise her sons secretly, at least she ran his business so effectively that he could indulge himself on the rest of the profits without noticing the shortfall. Her insistence on not revealing which of her three boys was Domenico’s son was important, and even he came to realise by the end that it meant he would never treat any one of them better than the others (nor try to control their lives either).
Mind you, it didn’t stop him trying to find out, which led to one of the funniest sections of the whole play (and there were several to choose from). Before their second wedding, the real one, Domenico spent some time alone with the boys, and tried to find some clues in the way they behaved or in their talents, to show which one was his son. At first he thought the womanising tailor could be the man; they shared a love of the fair sex. But then the others confessed to the same feelings, even if the married son was too scared of his wife to act on his inclinations. Singing was the next test, but no luck there either – who knew there could be three tone-deaf Neapolitans! This was hilarious stuff.
Samantha Spiro was excellent as Filumena, and Sheila Reid gave a nicely detailed performance as her maid, Rosalia. Clive Wood and Geoffrey Freshwater made a good double act as Domenico and his sidekick Alfredo, and the rest of the cast supported them really well with lovely performances. As we left the theatre, one man was even booking to see it again, and I can understand why.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me