“Tell me why we’re seeing this?” Andrew had grilled Phil with such alarming regularity that if he’d been looking into a mirror The Candyman would probably have appeared.
“Because Samantha Spiro is in it and I saw it years ago and really enjoyed it” Phil repeated with increasing impatience.
Of course Phil’s ‘years ago’ wasn’t Judi Dench’s Filumena, which was a mere 14 years ago, but the Franco Zeffirelli production from so long ago that Patricia Hayes was playing the maid and Joan Plowright’s youthful sons included Trevor Eve and Larry Lamb.
Those were the days when Phil would sit in the gallery of the Theatre Royal Brighton and see everything and – more peculiarly – enjoy almost everything. How times have changed.
Neopolitan ex-prostitute Filumena (Spiro) has been the mistress of wealthy philanderer Domenico (Clive Wood) for 26 years. As the play opens he’s just married her, believing her to be dying but it turns out it’s all been a ruse to tie him down and he’s not best pleased.
Initially it’s extremely difficult to care much for either of them: they both seem pretty ghastly. But at least they’re not spoiling another couple. Eventually we come to understand the reasons for her deceit; it’s a tart with a maternal heart tale and unless we put ‘spoiler alerts’ in we should leave it there but let’s just say if it were turned into a musical it would be performed to the back catalogue of Abba.
Eduardo De Filippo‘s (who also acted and starred in De Sica’s L’oro di Napoli with Sophia Loren in 1954) play came out in 1946. He could have neatly nabbed the title All My Sons (Tutti Miei Figli if you believe online translation) and caused a headache for Arthur Miller who didn’t lay claim to it until the following year.
Tanya Ronder’s new version (director Michael Attenborough) of the play has some very spirited playing from Spiro and Wood and a cast that includes Benidorm‘s Sheila Reid as Filumena’s long-standing companion and maid Rosalia. Yet despite a sumptuously pretty, flower-strewn courtyard set (Robert Jones) it doesn’t really amount to much.
It feels as if it’s being cooked on an electric ring and taking far too long to come to the boil. At best the comedy is only mildly amusing and the drama isn’t especially dramatic. It’s diverting enough, but when you find time to muse on the practicalities of drinking red wine in a cream linen suit and the impracticalities of metal garden furniture on stage (it’s rather noisy) there’s something amiss.
With an Act 2 of only 30 minutes it’s worth returning for the best scene (which provided the Whingers’ only laugh out loud moments) when Domenico tries to solve the secret that Filumena has been withholding from him for so long.
So we were left clutching at small mercies: an impressive selection of 40’s ties, a little bit of stage mopping – sadly, not on the scale of Singin’ in the Rain – and a rather impressive working drain which perked the Whingers up briefly. And Andrew always enjoys looking at on-stage trees and this one cascades over the Almeida stage replete with oranges.
But it was the celebratory wine that bothered the Whingers most – one bottle divided between eight glasses! Call that a celebration? The Whingers’ whistles would barely have been moistened.
Our ‘Glass half full’ rating has never seemed so appropriate.
The funniest line is to be found in the programme in which Michael Attenborough – who visited Naples researching the play – reveals:
As I killed time in the departure lounge at Naples airport I wandered over to the gift shop and found to my delight a large poster full of pencil drawings of Eduardo (as the Neopolitans call him) and two fridge magnets bearing his unmistakable features. I sadly thought to myself how bewildered a shop assistant at Heathrow would be, were a visitor to ask for a fridge magnet of Harold Pinter.
An extensive internet search revealed only this (right) but it has provided raffle prize ideas for the next Whingers’ party.