Royal National Theatre (Lyttelton), London SE1
Opened 27 June, 1991

Peter Tinniswood has converted Eduardo de Filippo's tale of black-marketeering wartime Neapolitans into broad Scouse; it's an effective shorthand for the quirks and quiddities of the city's character, although one has to strive to remember this is a city not just undergoing wartime privations but under occupation as Liverpool never was.

Ian McKellen's mumbling, humbling Gennaro is a shrewd creation: his return after a year missing, full of convictions regarding the horrors of war and the wrongs it brings, creates embarrassment among those around him because he hasn't become a fiery crusader he is an apologetic ghost at his own feast, whose meek but obdurate rectitude ultimately brings his now-wealthy family back onto the straight and narrow. Clare Higgins as his wife hits her peak as a female Michael Murray just before Gennaro's reappearance. The play has little to offer today's audience beyond gentle comedy and reassuring verities, but Richard Eyre packages these with an attractive flair.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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