Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Inner Voices, Barbican Theatre

Review: Inner Voices, Barbican Theatre

Published in the Telegraph, 28.03.2014

The police burst in, acting on Alberto Saporito’s accusation. Aniello Amitrano has been killed, he insists; his corpse stashed behind the Cimmaruta family’s dresser. Mother, father, daughter and nephew are all arrested and carted off. Then, after a peek behind the cupboard, Alberto turns round, eyes searching his memories, jaw slowly dropping. Horror dawns. “I dreamed the whole thing,” he gasps.

That’s just the start of things in Eduardo De Filippo’s absurdist classic. For all Alberto’s apologetic protestations, the Cimmarutas arrive one by one to out one another as the murderer. All conviction unravels. Was this a dream, after all, or a premonition of some coincidental reality? Or has the world just gone mad with guilt?

Written in 1948, shortly after the collapse of Italian fascism, Inner Voices diagnoses the rot that remains in a society returning to its senses. It’s almost a companion piece to Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, which played at the Barbican last year. Where Ionesco shows society succumbing to a herd mentality, transforming one by one into rhinos, De Filippo unpicks the reversal and recovery: the act of collective, conscious amnesia that allows society to move on. Guilt and suspicion are suppressed beneath smiles and charity. Neighbours swap good turns, but they know one another’s true nature.

It’s not an easy play, or a neat one. De Filippo wrote it speedily and that shows in its sprawling repetition and its narrative lurches.

Yet it has some exquisite components: the other neighbour, nicknamed the Gunpowder Poet, who communicates only through fireworks (and spit); the contrast of safe, regimented routine with the instability of sleep, where memories bubble back as nightmares.

But, for all its profound metaphors and its graceful design – a chic grey forestage with towers of chairs like twisted spines behind – Inner Voices is a bumbling comedy motored by a magnificent double act. Alberto and Carlo Saporito – played by film star Toni Servillo (best known for Gomorrah) and his real-life brother, Peppe – are like an old-age Laurel and Hardy with headcolds. Scraggy and unshaven, in matching shapeless suits and walking sticks, they chirrup back and forth, Alberto broad and softly bungling, Peppe stick-thin and conspiratorial. Where Brits might play them up, the Servillos underplay them beautifully, so that cogs whir without reaching an answer. It makes the world – rather than the protagonists themselves – seem utterly and hopelessly absurd.

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