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Daily Mail, 9th October 1998

The Peter Hall Company at the Piccadilly has done many fine things but non finer than this loving revival of one of the great Neapolitan comedies of Eduardo de Filippo.

The 1946 text is newly translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker, whose name, methinks, is an approximate anagram of our old friends Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, who did the last West End version, 20 years ago, starring Joan Plowright and Frank Finlay.

That came with a touch of Franco Zeffirelli in the night, and lots of Italianate fussiness.

Sir Peter, directing, plays it straight, and emotionally unadorned. So do his matchless lead performers, Judi Dench and Michael Pennington.

Filumena is a reformed prostitute who has married a top local confectioner, Domenico, on her supposed deathbed. The play starts with her waiting to sort out the nurse from Bologna who’s waiting to pounce on the widower.

Dame Judi has many weapons in her armoury. Anger is one of the most formidable. If looks could kill, poor old Domenico, not to mention the nurse, were obliterated on their way from the dressing rooms.

Her rampaging vendetta has waited 25 years, and now we hear about the three grown-up sons, one of whom Domenico sired.

One is a shirt-maker, one a budding writer, one a plumber. They are splendidly played by John Gordon Sinclair, Laurence Mitchell and Jason Watkins.

Apparently, they represent aspects of the struggling post-war Italy, and their reconciliation a blueprint for the new social order. The wedding is annulled on a technicality and rearranged ten months later, when Domenico has to accept Filumena’s condition of not knowing which son is his.

But their relationship is also to be re-defined. Mr Pennington has done nothing better, or more delicate, than his slow thawing from rigid paterfamilias to loving Dad. And Dame Judi, skittish as the breeze, matronly as a mother hen and finally, like Niobe, all tears, gives one of her classic performances of rich comic domination.

She grimaces in pinching shoes, and looks in mock horror at the latest cowardly male confession. Does anyone know how she does this, and break your heart? Not me.


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