London, June 1969
The last presentation in the World Theatre Season at the Aldwych is the Anna Magnani Company from Rome, with Anna Magnani herself playing the lead in Verga‘s La Lupa. The whole affair is a disappointment, recollection of it on the first night being made more dismal because the curtain went up half an hour late, the interval ran 25 minutes longer than it should have done, and there was the slow hand-clap from a fed-up audience.
The play is a thin melodrama about a middle-aged woman, the La Lupa, or She-Wolf of the title, who becomes sexually obsessed with a handsome young peasant, Nanni. For a time he resists her half-crazed advances, but finally gives in with a considerable show of passion, despite his attachment to the woman daughter, Mara. Nanni marries Mara, and the She-Wolf goes away: only to return some years later and continue her onslaught, at the same time doing her almost to wreck the marriage. At last, she drives Nanni to distraction, when he kills her with an axe.
In Franco Zeffirelli‘s painfully naturalistic production, which, incidentally, looks as if it had been on the road for ten years and become very tired and wan, there is a vigorous and sometimes touching performance by Osvaldo Ruggeri as Nanni and some effective outbursts of fury by Manuela Andrei as his wife. But generally the proceedings are tepid. Anna Magnani, whose voice was so low and muffled one could not catch half her lines on the opening night, fails to reveal the inner workings of the passion-driven woman, not does she project much sense of character and emotion.
It is interesting to note in the programme that the production has been re-rehearsed by someone other than Mr. Zeffirelli for a World Theatre occasion!
The sixth World Theatre Season drew to a close at the Aldwych with unprecedented enthusiasm and enormous audiences for Anna Magnani in Verga‘s La Lupa, the foyer bristling with those who hoped by hook or by crook to obtain a last-minute scrap of standing-room. And this was despite reviews of varying enthusiasm for both the actress and the production. To some, Magnani was wonderful; to others, a disappointment. But the fact that there was a diversity of opinion and still a clamour to see the actress is one of the most exciting things of the whole season. Praise all the time is very nice; but a bout of controversy can be very stimulating to all concerned. And it is surely one of the most interesting aspects of such a season, that audiences should be moved this way and that, in argument and discussion, in enthusiasm and criticism.
Cast: La Lupa
Revival of play by Giovanni Verga. Presented by the Anna Magnani Company from Rome in the World Theatre Season, presented by the Governors of the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych on June 2. Artistic director, Peter Daubeny. Designed by Franco Zeffirelli. Original production by Franco Zeffirelli re-rehearsed by Pasqualino Pennarola. Costumes by Anna Anni; music and Sicilian dances arranged by Bruno Nicolai and Alberto Testa; stage director, Enrico Pini.
Lagnà Pina (Anna Magnani); Mara (Manuela Andrei); Nanni Lasca (Osvaldo Ruggeri); Bruno (Pino Colizzi); Cardillo (Franco Acampora); Neli (Brizio Montinaro); Janu (Gianni Mantesi); Aunt Filomena (Ave Ninchi); Grazia (Nelide Giammarce); Lia (Lauretta Torchio); Malerba (Alfredo Censi); Nunzio (Sergio Nicolai).