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La Strada at the Richmond Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 28th Feb 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) and Zampanò (Stuart Goodwin)

Zampanò - he's here!

Before I had even seen the film, my mother kept talking about it as one of the true masterpieces of European cinema. She was fortunate enough to see Federico Fellini's La Strada in the cinema when it was released in 1954, with Anthony Quinn as the great Zampanò and Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina as his gentle assistant Gelsomina.

Bringing La Strada to the stage is no mean feat but director Sally Cookson and her ensemble succeeded, supported by Mike Akers as Writer in the Room. Instead of using a finished adaptation of the screenplay, they used improvisation as well as the film and the original script to create something new whilst keeping the essence and the spirit of Fellini's work.

La Strada (The Road) tells the story of the naïve and slightly awkward Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) who is sold to the travelling street performer Zampanò (Stuart Goodwin) to replace her late sister Rosa. Gelsomina is reluctant to go. She prefers spending her time alone at the sea, listening to the sound of the waves, but her mother has many mouths to feed and Gelsomina is expected to help support her family. Zampanò, a strongman whose act consists of breaking a chain around his chest, is not too pleased with an assistant who cannot even cook or sew but Gelsomina is smart enough to announce his act and then pass a hat around. The crude Zampanò beats Gelsomina and often leaves her alone at night, visiting bars and picking up women. Still Gelsomina remains loyal. When joining a small-time circus, they meet Il Matto (The Fool), played by Bart Soroczynski, a clown who also performs daredevil stunts on a tight-rope. Obviously Zampanò and Il Matto have a past and they are not the best of friends. Despite Zampanò's violent tendencies, Il Matto cannot stop taunting his rival - with tragic consequences.   

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 Il Matto (Bart Soroczynski) and ensemble

The stage design by Katie Sykes consists of a grey backdrop with chains and ropes hanging from the ceiling. Two telegraph poles rise up from the stage, indicating the continuous travel of the protagonists on the country roads and allowing Gelsomina and other cast members to climb them, thereby adding another level to the performance.

The international ensemble, composed of actor-musicians, is permanently onstage, often acting like a Greek chorus, introducing the performance as narrators and watching the story unfold, creating props such as Zampanò's motorcycle with a few wheels and movements, performing as a band in a bar, or representing a wedding party. The chorus often speaks Italian which provides a closeness to the Italian source text. Benji Bower's beautiful original score adds to the Italian setting and the narrative. Sally Cookson's production achieves a surreal quality matching the original film.

Audrey Brisson is an outstanding Gelsomina. A dreamer, at first awkward and socially shy, she gains enough confidence to demand her fair share of Zampanò's earnings. She is touching in her innocence and admirable in her loyalty and brings a Chaplinesque touch to her performance whilst using her soft voice to sing Benji Bower's melancholy melodies. Stuart Goodwin convinces as the brutish Zampanò, spending his money as soon as he earns it, giving little thought to what tomorrow will bring. He is a rough character but there Goodwin shows that there is more to him than expected. Bart Soroczynski's Il Matto is a world-weary clown who is kind to Gelsomina but cannot stop antagonising Zampanò. Maybe taunting the strongman provides the same kind of thrill as walking on a tight-rope. Soroczynski is a skilled acrobat who shows some astonishing feats during his performance.

A beautiful and highly theatrical production with an outstanding ensemble. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 4th March 2017 at the Richmond Theatre

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including one interval

Tour dates: http://www.lastradalive.com/

Photographs by Robert Day.

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