The early Twentieth century was boom time for theatres and playhouses. The Belle Epoque was in full swing across Europe and economic prosperity was on the rise. Technical and scientific innovations were heralding a whole new age of progress and discovery. Italy was no different and this period in the country’s history was characterised by the political liberalism and cultural progression. In Naples, Eduardo Scarpetta was one of the most beloved comic playwrights. His story is captured in The King of Laughter.
Eduardo Scarpetta (Toni Servillo) is the toast of Naples. The patriarch of one of the most popular theatre groups, which also forms his unorthodox family, is renowned for his slapstick romances and barbed farces. Then there’s his comic everyman, Felice Sciosciammocca, who has managed to usurp Pulcinella in the hearts of Neapolitans. At the height of his fame, he takes a gamble on parodying a tragedy by the greatest Italian poet of the time, which horribly backfires.
The King of Laughter is an impeccably made period drama superbly conjures up the atmosphere of the era. Indeed, the craft on show is extremely impressive. As is Servillo’s majestic central performance. Events and players all revolve round his magnetic presence. In many ways, Scarpetta’s life was more extraordinary than any play, spawning a theatrical dynasty and leaving a lasting legacy. Mario Martone’s film manages to capture this in all its glory.
The King of Laughter screens at International Film Festival Rotterdam.