Filumena Marturano


Almeida Theatre, London (15 March – 12 May)

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 Wood 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.

by Alessandra De Martino, University of Warwick