The setting is 1940s Naples and wealthy Domenico Soriano has been tricked into marrying his mistress of 25 years, Filumena Marturano. Eduardo De Filippo’s Filumena (here brought to life in English by Tanya Ronder) is a story that spills over with Italian passion.
With a large orange tree, a shuttered two-storey villa (or what can be seen of it from the courtyard) and pieces of interest such as a statue of the Virgin Mary surrounded by candles and flowers, Robert Jones’ stunning and sumptuous set is really quite something to behold. The set’s beauty is masterfully lit by Tim Mitchell who understands perfectly that nuanced lighting only adds to the effect of a play such as this. Filumena marks another incredible transformation for the stage of the Almeida. How they manage to mould and re-form the playing space for each production never fails to astound me.
Whilst there is a slightly mixed bag of acting styles on stage, Samantha Spiro’s performance as Filumena is breathtaking. Spiro’s performance is a masterclass in acting, and ranges from intimate and loving to passionate and threatening with delicate and intelligent choices. Luke Norris, whose great charisma seems to drip off the stage, and Emily Plumtree also gave strong and enjoyable performances. Unfortunately I felt that whilst the ‘Italian nature’ (helped by Manuela Ruggiero) was very clear, and added something very important to such a fiery Italian piece, that this gave an excuse for some of the actors to become quite performative. I found myself wishing for a unifying style or level to root the performances and make them resonate deeper.
With a long first act, which builds up tensions until boiling point, and a short second act, where everything seems to have already been resolved in the interval, Filumena keeps your interest with a tension that is never truly resolved for the audience. In truth the second act is almost fairytale-esque and seems to serve solely as a happily-ever-after leaving one of the most interesting parts dramatically, the resolution, to happen offstage. Lots of questions are left unanswered in this play and whilst the characters have resolved them it would be nice for the audience to have been let in on it.
I enjoyed Filumena but had Samantha Spiro not taken the title role in this production then I would be in great doubt as to whether it would have had anywhere near the same impact on me. The script itself seems to miss the mark on a quite a few levels but the production has done well at covering this, and Spiro’s skill and charm as an actor produce yet another extraordinary performance.
Filumena is playing at the Almeida Theatre until 12 May. For more information and tickets, see the Almeida Theatre website.