A gorgeous Saturday afternoon saw us trudging along Upper Street in blinding sunshine with blinding hangovers and wishing we were lying on the sofa with a dvd of All About Eve playing in the background. A quick vodka and tonic in the Almeida’s foyer bar soon sorted us out and we began to feel human again.
The Almeida has form for fabulous sets and they do not disappoint this time, a stunning sun-baked shuttered Neapolitan courtyard on two levels filled with plants and trees sets the scene perfectly, all credit to designer Robert Jones. To a soundtrack of chirruping crickets, a blustering Clive Wood as Domenico has just uncovered a dishevelled but unbowed Filumena’s subterfuge and is determined she should not get away with it. A trio of sons puts the cat amongst the pigeons and harrowing back stories from both Samantha Spiro’s Filumena and Sheila Reid’s worldly wise and unflappable Rosalia, Filumena’s faithful sidekick, prove quite a grim scenario for comedy. The extremely dark first act gives way to a much lighter, shorter second act, set 10 months later, and a final happy, if not altogether believable, resolution.
I appreciate that this is a classic play, but, despite first-rate performances from Samantha Spiro, Sheila Reid and Emily Plumtree, as Domenico’s younger mistress Diana, the whole thing is somewhat unfulfilling. The change in personalities of Filumena and Domenico between acts struck me as totally implausible. Would the Filumena who can barely disguise her utter contempt for Domenico in act one, go on to describe him as a god in act two, would he express undying love for a woman he has treated as a live-in hooker-cum-housekeeper for the previous 27 years? Some very “broad” acting, especially from Clive Wood, who was so good in last year’s Flare Path, feels clunky and doesn’t ring true and the main characters are such machiavellian manipulators it is hard to empathise or feel much sympathy.
Possible SPOILER alert! One thing troubled me and has been on my mind ever since, why at the climax does Filumena very pointedly drink water when everyone else celebrates with wine? I assumed an announcement of pregnancy and a joyful genuine reconciliation with Domenico was the imminent denouement, but it was unforthcoming. Perhaps she was really ill this time and the happy ending was to be short-lived. Would anyone even bother about the effects of wine on a pregnant or ill woman in 1940’s Naples? Maybe Filumena didn't think there was cause for celebration or maybe I’m just not smart enough to appreciate the sub-text. Whatever the reason, it only served to add to my sense of frustration.
I did enjoy the play, mainly for Samantha Spiro’s spirited portrayal of a lioness who would stop at nothing to protect her cubs. There are also two great supporting turns from Sheila Reid and Emily Plumtree, both actors perfectly balancing comedy and sadness. As a whole though, the piece feels distinctly of its time and poses more questions than it answers.
Booking until 12 May 2012, worth a visit for a spirited Spiro - Filumena