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La Strada - Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Louise Winter on 22nd Feb 2017 | View all blogs by Louise Winter

 

Reviewed by Louise Winter 20th February 2017

An evocative, poetic, striking, and enigmatic piece of art

Based on the Oscar-winning 1954 film by Fellini, La Strada (the road) tells the story of the Gelsomina (Audrey Bresson), sold by her widowed mother to travelling strongman Zampanò (Stuart Goodwin) in a desperate move to feed her other children. Gentle, 'artichoke faced' Gelsomina works as Zampanò’s assistant, setting up his act and passing around the hat. Zampanò is violent, beats Gelsomina into submission, spends all their money on booze and women, and gives her nothing to send home to her family. Gelsomina has no choice but to remain with him, being far from home and powerless. The pair are eventually taken on by a travelling circus where Gelsomina strikes up a friendship with The Fool, Il Matteo. Past events, which are never explicit, between The Fool and Zampanò lead to tragic events.

La Strada

image by Robert Day  

The approach of this company is to create the show, using the original film as a source, as rehearsals progress. There is no initial script and all elements of the production are developed organically by the cast and creatives. There is a seamlessness and unity in the production; a harmony of story, cast and staging as a result. 

The physicality of this production is central to the impact with almost all characters on the simple, stark stage set throughout. Much is portrayed by the ensemble who watch and comment on the action like a Greek chorus, creating the whooshing of the waves and the rattle of the rain with their bodies. The narrative is on occasion moved along by them yet who speaks and from where on stage is not always evident, adding to the sense of mystery and hidden elements of this story. Not all is laid bare on stage and the audience is left to interpret the characters and events to some extent. This oftentimes sense of looking beneath the surface is challenging and stimulating, more like reading literature where one’s imagination is key to completing storylines and character motivations.  The use of vignettes which flow into and through one another gives us fleeting glances into hidden aspects, yet scenes transform and move on before we see too much, leaving us to our imaginations and interpretations. This movement, created under the direction of Cameron Carver, waxes and wanes physically over the stage creating a sense of timelessness and impermanence.  

La Strada

image by Robert Day

Staging by Katie Sykes is a versatile set with simple backdrop, high telegraph poles, ropes and chains upon which the cast climb and hang. Crates are shifted to become tables, chairs, beds and Zampanò’s motorbike. It is a contained and at times effectively claustrophobic set, keeping Gelsomina confined with The Strong Man. Lighting by Aideen Malone creates warm golden sunshine, cold sharp nights, the inside of a circus tent or a bar at night - always a sense of time and place. 

Original music from Benji Bower and an ethereal soundscape from Mike Beer present wonderful energetic gypsy-like songs and instrumental moments in some scenes, all performed by the multi-talented cast ,and then strange other-worldly sensations at other times; a haunting, ghostly sense is a constant companion.

La Strada cast

image by Robert Day 

Director Sally Cookson’s international cast of supremely talented actors/musicians are outstanding. There is a sense of sure-footedness and cohesiveness to them which must come from the way the company develops its work.

Audrey Brisson is outstanding as the awkward Gelsomina. Tiny on stage, looking like a female Chaplin her stance, walk and physicality depict humour, vulnerability and fragility; at times uncomfortable and emotional to watch. Bresson connects with the audience immediately. Her transformation to a slightly more confident figure is done with subtlety – a small shift in her body language, a change in gear for her movement across stage. Bresson is spellbinding to watch. The final scene is a complete revelation; that such an incredibley powerful voice and purity of tone comes from the little clown Gelsomina is truly breathtaking.

Stuart Goodwin as Zampanò is completely commanding and dominating. Despite Zampanò's coarse, uncouth and violent behaviour, Goodwin gives us tiny glimpses of another layer to this man. The motivations behind his aggression and hate for The Fool (Bart Soroczynski) is unstated but The Fool’s mocking causes him agitation and to ultimately lose control.

Soroczynski demonstrates his consummate circus skills on the unicycle setting up the second half. As The Fool he is a jaded, melancholic clown and a soft-hearted kindred spirit to Gelsomina. Finding fun and pleasure where he can includes insulting and goading Zampanò but in doing so and his care for Gelsomin he holds a mirror up to humanity. As in Shakespeare, here The Fool is no fool but shines a light on others. 

This is a remarkable and captivating piece of theatre; intelligent, engaging and unusual in the midst of so much mediocrity. Productions like this need to be supported, embraced and treasured. 

La Strada is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 25th February 2017 and then on tour.

Box Office:                   0844 871 7652 (bkg fee)* 

Groups Hotline:         01908 547609 

Access Booking:       0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)* 

Online Booking:        www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes  (bkg fee)

 

 

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