There are a great many jokes in La Grande Magia at the National's Lyttelton Theatre, but the best among them are the most poignant and complex. Eduardo de Filippo's tragi-comedy has great potential for slapstick which the director Richard Eyre has ably exploited with a fine cast. The moments of high farce, however, were the ones that I found the least enjoyable, although the audience around me disagreed. What this play - and this production - does quite brilliantly is satirise our own human dependency upon illusion.
Bernard Cribbins plays Professor Marvuglia, a con -man magician who enables a jealous husband's beautiful young wife to disappear with her lover - and then makes the poor man believe she has gone because of his own lack of faith in her fidelity. It is very funny and very cruel.
Alan Howard (below) is characteristically precise and absorbing as the unfortunate husband. There is also a plethora of wonderful cameos from the supporting cast. What makes this production really live, however, is the magical set. In the first scene, on the Italian Riviera, the whole stage shimmers with the blue and gold light of a summer evening by the sea. Later, the wealthy husband's apartment is built of a succession of huge red flats set upon a floor of black-and-white squares. It is grimly evocative of the man's inner torment. The total effect is an intensely absorbing drama where the grand resources of the National have been used to fittingly gorgeous effect.
Mail on Sunday, 23.7.95