21 June 2014
Warwick Art Students Festival. All the better to protect you, my dear. (Per proteggerti meglio, figlia mia) by Dacia Maraini.
Italian Theatre Reviews
Il sindaco del rione Sanità - The Syndicate
A new production of Eduardo De Filippo's Il sindaco del rione Sanità has been presented at the Chichester Festival Theatre in a new version by Mike Poulton, directed by Sean Mathias with the title The Syndicate. The play was premièred at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, on the 21st July 2011. It then moved to Milton Keynes Theatre, where it remained from the 17th until the 21st September.
The main characters were played by Ian McKellen (Don Antonio Barracano) and Michael Pennington (Doctor Fabio Della Ragione).
It is a play in three acts, written in 1960 and set in Naples. The protagonist, Antonio Barracano, is a local padrino who governs crime in the district where he lives administering his own justice in a system parallel to the official one. He has been helped for thirty five years by the loyal Doctor Della Ragione, who performs improvised surgery in makeshift operating theatres arranged in the Barracanos’ residence. An affectionate family and obedient employees sustain this local despot in his crazy project of making the world ‘meno rotondo ma un poco più quadrato’. In the end, he will be killed by Arturo Santaniello, an evil man who makes the life of his son Rafiluccio such a misery that the young man decides to kill his father, but before doing this, he seek advice from Barracano. However, his desire to resolve the conflict between father and son will prove fatal for him. The finale of the drama establishes a new principle, in contrast with the one suggested by the protagonist, denting every legitimacy of private justice based on connivance and silence.
Both Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington have played roles in De Filippo’s plays before. Ian McKellen was Antonio Jovine in Napoli Milionaria!, translated by Peter Tinniswood using Scouse, and directed by Richard Eyre in 1991 in the Lyttleton at the Royal National Theatre. Michael Pennington played Domenico Soriano in the 1998 Filumena Marturano interpreted by Judy Dench, in a translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker.
Since I hadn’t had the privilege to see those productions, I was thrilled to admire these outstanding figures in action in the same play, and I could appreciate first-hand their exquisite acting. Some doubts were cast, however, on the director’s choice to portray Barracano as an unconvincing ‘cool guy’ at the venerable age of 75, still willing to prove himself in boxing. Equally unimpressive was the over-gesticulating Cherie Lunghi/Donna Armida Barracano, whose Italian accent seemed to bring us back to the old days of the 1970s Zeffirelli’s productions.
A brief note on the language of the translation, rendering the Neapolitan dialect of De Filippo in Standard English, to underscore that the question of dialect translation is still unanswered, as the subtleness of it and the cultural references remain confined within the source text.
The modernity of De Filippo’s plays is still perceptible in this new translation which is a good account of the live interest for this author and his themes in twenty-first century England.
Filumena Marturano - Filumena
A new English version of Eduardo De Filippo’s masterpiece Filumena Marturano was premiered at the Almeida Theatre in London on the 15th March 2012, running until the 12th May with the title Filumena. The play was translated by Tanya Ronder and directed by Michael Attenborough. Samantha Spiro played Filumena and Clive Weed was Domenico Soriano.
Filumena Marturano has been translated and performed a great deal of times and actresses of immense talent have embarked on the task of portraying such a powerful character. In 1977, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s adaptation was first staged at the Lyric Theatre in London and directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Joan Plowright as Filumena and Colin Blakely as Domenico Soriano. Then, after two decades, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s translation was staged in London in 1998 at the Piccadilly Theatre, directed by Peter Hall. The main roles were played by Judi Dench as Filumena and Michael Pennington as Domenico.
Filumena Marturano was first premièred on the 7th November 1946 at Teatro Politeama, in Naples. It tells the story of an ex-prostitute who has been living for twenty-five years as a mistress/housekeeper with Domenico, a rich and spoilt confectioner who rescued her from the brothel. Unbeknown to him, he is the father of one of Filumena’s undiscovered three sons to whom she is determined to give Domenico’s name, and to do so, she feigns a deadly illness in order to be married on her death bed. No sooner has the priest declared them husband and wife, then the ‘dead’ comes back to life claiming her legitimate status. After a fight to the death to gain she her name and he his freedom, the two will eventually (re-)marry and the principle of equality of children will be sealed.
Ronder’s translation from Neapolitan was in colloquial Standard English, which, though fluent to the hearing and easy to follow, somewhat obliterated the social gaps between the speakers - a feature accentuated by an impeccable Received Pronunciation of Filumena - and flattened the linguistic varieties present in the play, including some comic parts which based their effectiveness on the linguistic element. But the rendering of dialect is always problematic and would require a particularly audacious attitude, first of the director and then of the translator, to make the version truly innovative.
Michael Attenborough’s production managed to capture the subtleness and humour of this drama without falling in pigeon-holed representations of Mediterranean flare: the temptation of using Italian accents was avoided and so was over-gesticulation. The two excellent leading actors portrayed well both a steel-willed woman and a vain man, and also the chorus of ‘minor’ characters succeeded in lightening up the tensest moments in a lively, yet not caricaturized, manner. Particularly notable was Rosalia / Sheila Reid who juggled well between repartees with Alfredo / Geoffrey Freshwater and emotional dialogues with Filumena. The only indulgence was the picturesque setting of a Neapolitan courtyard over-adorned with flowers and trees, which, while offering a romanticised, postcard-type image of the city, created a visual contrast with the dramatic events happening on stage. This, however, did not infringe on the pleasantness of the play which transferred a universal message, poignantly depicting a woman’s battle for equality and social recognition despite her deprived background.
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30 November 2013
British Council, Milan, Italy. Per un teatro al plurale: scene scomparse, scene sommerse, scene riemerse, A. De Martino, P. Puppa, P. Toninato.
25 October 2013
University of Warwick, Millburn House. Book launch Differences on Stage, A. De Martino, P. Puppa, P. Toninato eds, Cambridge Scholars Publishers, 2013.