La Strada (The Road) is based on the subject and script work by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinell. It is a story about a young girl who is sold to a travelling performer and the journey she takes to get back home. Prior to its West End run at the Other Palace this summer, the show has embarked on a UK tour. Transporting its audience across post-war Italy through the struggles of the working performer, it’s a show that places the purpose of theatre boldly at its heart: storytelling. The prologue is spoken by the ensemble: “This is an old story” and from then on, Cookson’s Brechtian inspired direction takes the stage into its own and pulls it apart to its raw roots. Its devising comes from working with this ensemble and a ‘writer in the room’ – Mike Akers – to transform this Italian cinematic spectacle into a live action stage show, and it is in this devising that so much creativity is clear.
Audrey Brisson provides an innocent and enthralling Gelsomina throughout the story and, in direction with Sally Cookson, the two provide an immersive experience for the audience as we are captivated by her story with every inch she moves about the stage. Brisson is also vocally talented and it soothes through Benji Bower’s stunning original soundtrack. Likewise, the vocals of the actor musician ensemble soar through the score with delicacy and tact creating real scope for Bower’s music to be exploited throughout the piece.
It is in the transformation into act two that the strength in Bart Soroczynski as Il Matto (The Fool) really comes into play. His character evokes empathy from the audience and makes it all the more captivating as the show climaxes in Act Two – a truly striking moment in the show. Meanwhile, antagonist – Zampano (Stuart Goodwin) provides our empathy for Gelsomina through his harsh abuse and narcissistic deeds. With movement direction from Cameron Carver, the fight sequences between Goodwin and the rest of the cast are horrifyingly real, and reflect nicely Carver’s movement in transition sequences.
It is, however, the ensemble of actor-musicians who really emphasise the artistic integrity behind this storytelling. The ensemble personify the emotion behind what Gelsomina experiences throughout the story with movement, sound, instruments and particularly during the transition sequences where movement through tyres reflect the nature of Gelsomina and Zamphano’s travel across the country. It is raw, striking and yet delicately beautiful to watch and a real reflection on the state of post-war Italy.
On a design front, this feeling of a bleak setting is further heightened in Katie Sykes’ stripped back and sparse wooden and metal-chained set. In collaboration with Aideen Malone’s lighting design there is scope for pure excellence across the show and some real moments of visual sensation are created. Sykes’ costuming is also unique in its approach, opting for a rather industrial and bleak look into the character’s appearances, allowing for a little colour in the circus character’s facades.
La Strada really places the audience on ‘The Road’ with the performers to experience a tale of hate, love and passion. It truly is one of the rawest depictions of storytelling across contemporary British musical theatre and you mustn’t miss it on its UK Tour this year.
Review by Andrew Exeter
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