Almeida Theatre, London (15 March - 12 May 2012)
reviewed by Alessandra De Martino, University of Warwick
A new English version of Eduardo De Filippo’s masterpiece Filumena Marturano was premiered at the Almeida Theatre in London on the 15th March 2012, running until the 12th May with the title Filumena. The play was translated by Tanya Ronder and directed by Michael Attenborough. Samantha Spiro played Filumena and Clive Weed was Domenico Soriano.
Filumena Marturano has been translated and performed a great deal of times and actresses of immense talent have embarked on the task of portraying such a powerful character. In 1977, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s adaptation was first staged at the Lyric Theatre in London and directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Joan Plowright as Filumena and Colin Blakely as Domenico Soriano. Then, after two decades, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s translation was staged in London in 1998 at the Piccadilly Theatre, directed by Peter Hall. The main roles were played by Judi Dench as Filumena and Michael Pennington as Domenico.
Filumena Marturano was first premièred on the 7th November 1946 at Teatro Politeama, in Naples. It tells the story of an ex-prostitute who has been living for twenty-five years as a mistress/housekeeper with Domenico, a rich and spoilt confectioner who rescued her from the brothel. Unbeknown to him, he is the father of one of Filumena’s undiscovered three sons to whom she is determined to give Domenico’s name, and to do so, she feigns a deadly illness in order to be married on her death bed. No sooner has the priest declared them husband and wife, then the ‘dead’ comes back to life claiming her legitimate status. After a fight to the death to gain she her name and he his freedom, the two will eventually (re-)marry and the principle of equality of children will be sealed.
Ronder’s translation from Neapolitan was in colloquial Standard English, which, though fluent to the hearing and easy to follow, somewhat obliterated the social gaps between the speakers - a feature accentuated by an impeccable Received Pronunciation of Filumena - and flattened the linguistic varieties present in the play, including some comic parts which based their effectiveness on the linguistic element. But the rendering of dialect is always problematic and would require a particularly audacious attitude, first of the director and then of the translator, to make the version truly innovative.
Michael Attenborough’s production managed to capture the subtleness and humour of this drama without falling in pigeon-holed representations of Mediterranean flare: the temptation of using Italian accents was avoided and so was over-gesticulation. The two excellent leading actors portrayed well both a steel-willed woman and a vain man, and also the chorus of ‘minor’ characters succeeded in lightening up the tensest moments in a lively, yet not caricaturized, manner. Particularly notable was Rosalia / Sheila Reid who juggled well between repartees with Alfredo / Geoffrey Freshwater and emotional dialogues with Filumena. The only indulgence was the picturesque setting of a Neapolitan courtyard over-adorned with flowers and trees, which, while offering a romanticised, postcard-type image of the city, created a visual contrast with the dramatic events happening on stage. This, however, did not infringe on the pleasantness of the play which transferred a universal message, poignantly depicting a woman’s battle for equality and social recognition despite her deprived background.
Drayton Arms Theatre, London (6 -18 September 2015)
reviewed by Alessandra De Martino, University of Warwick
Eduardo De Filippo’s theatre continues to create interest in the UK. The first play by the Neapolitan actor/author to be performed in this country was Questi fantasmi! (Too Many Ghosts!) staged in 1958, but it was his own appearance at the Aldwych as Gennaro Jovine in Napoli milionaria! in 1972, that generated a real passion for his theatre and his minimalist acting style. Since then, his plays have been performed regularly on British stages, and actors of the calibre of Lawrence Olivier, Joan Plowright, Ian McKellen, Michael Pennington and Judi Dench have brought his characters onto the stage. The most renowned performances are certainly those by Joan Plowright and Judi Dench as Filumena Marturano, the protagonist of the homonymous play, in 1977 and 1998 respectively. The latest English production of Filumena Marturano, originally written in 1946 by Eduardo for his sister Titina, confirms how this is very much a contemporary play, whose main theme, the right to live a dignified life, is at the centre of one of the biggest tragedies of the “developed” West: the migrants’ and refugees’ exodus. This is one of the points which emerged during a Q&A session I was invited to take part in, conducted by the assistant director Alex Israel, after Saturday’s performance of Filumena by the Don Minzone Production, directed by Tino Orsini and staged at the Drayton Arms Theatre in London. The first question Alex asked me was why De Filippo has become such a well-known and appreciated author in the UK and, I added, in the world. The main reason is the universality of the themes of his theatre, among which is, first and foremost, equality, followed by respect of the law and solidarity among human beings. I often describe De Filippo as a visionary since, more than half a century ago, he brought onto the stage issues such as prostitution, abortion, organised and juvenile crime, and social discrimination which are still at the centre of our society. In the same way George Orwell, in 1948, wrote his visionary book 1984, presenting an apparently inconceivable apocalyptic future which is now our normal present.
This production boasts an excellent cast of actors who have conveyed the essence of this powerful drama of denied rights: the right to be a mother, to equality, to have a family, to lead a dignified life. Kathryn Worth plays Filumena, an ex-prostitute who has lived for twenty-five years more uxorio though as a caring wife, with rich and flamboyant Domenico (David Houston) who rescued her from the brothel where he met her. She has devoted her own life to running Domenico’s confectionary business while he was away enjoying his life with other women. Unbeknown to him, she has three sons: Riccardo (Arron Blake), Umberto (Matias Di Masso) and Michele (David Wentworth) and, in order to legitimate them, she feigns a deadly illness and makes Domenico marry her on her deathbed. After the priest has declared them husband and wife, Filumena comes back from the dead and proclaims herself the new Signora Soriano. But this coup de thèátre is not enough to make her the lawful wife of Domenico’s since he has other plans: he intends to have the fraudulent marriage declared null and marry his young lover Diana (Emma Gonnella) who has been brought into the house as a nurse to attend to Filumena’s last hours. The law is against Filumena, as the lawyer Avvocato Nocella (Andrew Armifield) will inexorably explain: only if dead, would Filumena have become Filumena Soriano. But Filumena has a secret weapon: a one hundred liras note where she wrote the date when one of the three sons was conceived with Domenico, who becomes then inevitably tied to her and her sons. The play only apparently has a happy ending that is the wedding between Filumena and Domenico, in the presence of the three legitimised sons. Domenico must accept Filumena’s conditions of total anonymity of the real son in order to enjoy his role of father, or he loses his privilege altogether. Devoted Rosalia (Diana Brooks) and Alfredo (Toni Wredden), together with the housemaid Lucia (Rebecca Cilento) act as ad hoc tension releasers, supporting characters.
This is indeed a notable, very intense performance, and if we were to pick a few points, we could say on the one hand, that it would have been great to see the same passion Kathryn Worth infused in her character, also in the monologues about Filumena’s dilemma whether to have an abortion or keep her child, and in the account of her bleak childhood that led her into prostitution; on the other, that Domenico seems at times a tad too anxious to get over and done with Filumena and jump on sensual Diana.
As to the cultural representation of the play, Carlo Ardito’s translation in Standard English and the Received Pronunciation of some of the characters don’t seem to do full justice to De Filippo, who uses Neapolitan for the majority of his characters. However, it was poignant to see the whole drama develop in the dining room used almost as a boxing ring. On the whole, Orsini’s excellent directorial choice to avoid caricatures or exaggerated acting, often used in De Filippo’s British productions, creates a greatly enjoyable show that brings out the dramatic, rather than comic, essence of this masterpiece.
The Lionesses in Liolà
National Theatre, London (7 August-6 November 2013)
As someone raised by three matriarchs from Agrigento (my mother and her two sisters), each under the rule of the woman my father calls 'Mother Superior' (my nonna), I have never quite been able to understand the view that women in the work of Pirandello represent the weaker vessel. These women were the kind Pirandello, also from Agrigento, was likely to have come across, and it appears to me that despite the outwardly passive exterior of some of his female characters, they are very much the catalysts of the plots, setting alight the main action. Under a succession of different rules - Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, Norman - Sicily has evolved a patriarchal system led by men who sit comfortably at the head of the table. But beneath this superficial exterior, the Sicily I have come to know is an island fixed with the adoration of the mother / the Madonna at the centre of the family. Women in Sicily - and, following unification in 1861, in united Italy - might have lacked a political voice (they gained the right to suffrage only in 1946) but this does not mean they have lacked a voice of their own. In fact, if there were ever a voice to avoid when creeping home after a late-night summer ride on a vespa, it was nonna's.
This kind of paradox (what you see on the outside is the opposite of what is really going on underneath) is at the heart of Pirandello's approach. In his critical essay Humorism (1908), Pirandello explains this term by giving the example of an elderly woman, heavily made-up to look much younger. Our unease with her appearance makes us want to laugh, which is what the comedian does. The 'humorist', on the other hand, pays close attention to why she is parading herself like this and recognizes that it is because she fears losing her younger husband. As a result, the 'humorist' can no longer laugh like the comedian. As Pirandello puts it, he is more concerned with uncovering the 'shadow' of his works (what is hidden beneath the exterior) than exposing the 'body' (what is portrayed on the surface).
reviewed by Enza De Francisci, July 2013,
Based on “Women in Verga and Pirandello: From Page to Stage”, PhD Thesis