La Strada – Theatre Review (Tour)

Fellini’s Oscar winning film, La Strada, has quite a turbulent history. From the endless challenges faced when filming, to the director’s well-publicized mental breakdown, the film has a hard-earned place as a classic of cinema. A visual masterpiece, it was perhaps ripe for a stage version, although its fairytale-like plot perhaps does not lend itself to traditional theatre. It’s wonderful then that director Sally Cookson and the cast have devised such an engaging and atmospheric piece, full of theatrical conventions, that although might be well-known to the fringe scene, are rarely present in huge theatres such as Milton Keynes. How refreshing to see a large show rely not just on spectacle, but also the imagination.

The relatively huge ensemble cast work terrifically well together, blending together as a Chorus, echoing Gelsomina’s thoughts and feelings, then quickly creating character when needed – as fleetingly as a dream. We follow the tale of the simple girl Gelsomina (a simply adorable Audrey Brisson), whose Mother is so poor she sells her daughter as an assistant to a travelling strongman, the great Zampano (Stuart Goodwin). As they journey along the road, trying to earn as much as they can to stay alive, they finally happen across a Circus where Gelsomina is drawn to the joyful and exuberant Fool (Bart Soroczynski).

Brisson perfectly captures the Chaplin-esqe, ‘artichoke headed’ Gelsomina – her curiosity, kindness and self-deprecating nature all make us warm to Gelsomina, but it is Brisson’s highly skilled physical work and clowning ability that really make us fall in love. Her gentle singing, a refrain repeated throughout, is sweet and sad all at once. A perfect tragic heroine. Stuart Goodwin is suitably terrifying and ridiculously masculine that one can’t help but feel for him too, despite his abusive and drunken tendencies. Rounding out the central trio, Bart Soroczynski really lights up the stage as The Fool, showing off his exquisite clowning, circus and musical skills.

The set and costume design from Katie Sykes, is simple but clever. Almost creating a junkyard of objects for the cast to choose from, ropes, chains, and the strong sight of two telegraph poles cast beautiful long shadows. Highlighted beautifully by the clever lighting design of Aideen Malone, both work in conjunction to create a dream-like world. The visual poetry quite literally seeps out of every darkened corner of the stage; red petals fall from an umbrella high in the sky, the circus ‘tent’ is heave-ho’d into place perfectly, buckets of water flung in slow motion echo Gelsomina’s love of the waves in her hometown. All exceptionally clever, not to mention the joy of having live music on stage too. The original music from Benji Bower is thrilling, sad and moody all at once. What an exceedingly talented company.

The tragic conclusion of Gelsomina’s tale is spine-tingling in its construction, but perhaps not as fulfilling emotionally as some might like. For those happy to languish in the dreamy reverie of the show, it is a touching close to the tragic tale of the girl, Gelsomina. As always, perhaps Milton Keynes is almost too big for this sort of show, but my friends assured me they had an amazing view even from the Circle. Under Sally Cookson’s wonderful direction, La Strada is a beautiful, poetic piece, full of atmosphere and just a little touch of magic – catch it on tour before its London residency, where it’s bound to be a huge success.

La Strada
Milton Keynes Theatre
20th Feb – 25th Feb, 2017

Then continuing on tour. Details at:

http://www.lastradalive.com/

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Monday 20th February 2017.

Author's review: 
4