Theatre review: Filumena at the Almeida Theatre

Review of the Almeida’s latest new translation of Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo’s 1940s play

The Almeida is well known for its stunning set designs and here it has replicated the breezy idyll of 1940s Naples with style, staging Filumena inside a lush, sun-dappled courtyard.

From this romantic location, surely designed to make the audience daydream of balmy Italian holidays, a conveyor belt of characters take to the stage each in turn injecting light comedic charm into this post-war play.

And there is plenty of humour to be found in Eduardo De Filippo’s script. Here, he tells the story of Filumena (Samantha Spiro), the long-suffering mistress of the brutish and selfish Domenico (Clive Wood), who tricks him into marrying her by pretending to be on her death bed.

But no sooner has he recovered from the shock of her all too healthy demeanour, than this formidable woman produces a few surprises, in the form of three illegitimate sons, to keep the aging playboy on his toes.

While the one-liners are biting and the relationships and characterisation compelling against a backdrop of class and gender conflict, sadly the story itself lacks the substance to carry it through.

Filumena’s backstory and her reasons for wanting to trick Domenico into marriage are what fuel the play through to its conclusion, yet these are never fully resolved and the theatrical fire it opens with simply fizzles out by the time the curtain falls.

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However Spiro’s resilient take on the embittered former prostitute is a delight to watch, filling the stage with a joyful mix of self-assurance and vulnerability. But while the acting is strong and the stage design a real attraction, the play fails to deliver on the dramatic punch it has teased us with from the beginning.

* Filumena is showing at the Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, N1, until May 12.