Sunday, 4 June 2017

REVIEW: LA STRADA at the Other Palace

There are times when a good show comes along, but ‘La Strada’ featuring on the main stage at The Other Palace races by ‘good’ in gallant strides remaking Fellini's classic into breathtaking theatre. Telephone poles amidst hanging chains welcome the audience to the auditorium with an air of mystery; even without the lights, the stage is poised with wonder as boxes, pieces of cloth and costumes surround the stage. 

‘La Strada’ is centric to a young girl, Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) who is sold to the traveling entertainer Zampano (Stuart Goodwin), who, before buying her from her Mother, had bought her sister Rosa. Their journey is one of abuse, intimidation, and exploitation but they are two halves of the same coin. The characters compliment each other perfectly; Zampano’s short temper and anger are calmed by the naivety and purity of Gelsomina. 

Zampano soon realises that Gelsomina doesn’t have much talent and teaches her to bang a drum and collect money on their travels. 

A turn for the positive when they both join a circus quickly turns sour when The Fool (Bart Soroczynski) taunts Zampano at any chance he gets, resulting in a journey on a downward spiral. 

This production is not a musical. If you’re expecting the divisive, traditional structure songs play in musicals you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you are going to watch La Strada with an open mind and a desire to be told a moving and beautiful story, you will not leave displeased. Brought to life by what is simply some of the best direction I have seen, Sally Cookson (Also an associate artist of Bristol Old Vic) utilises every prop, actor and inch on the stage. I could dress this up with colourful adjectives and moving nouns but all I can say is this; Sally Cookson is unrivalled in her field and should be celebrated for her ability to create. Her vision along with Benji Bower’s music work symbiotically to rouse deep feelings and connect the story to your very soul: but it is nothing without the actors who tell this story.

La Strada is an ensemble piece through and through. Harking back to an era when droves of people would walk for miles to an amphitheatre, this ensemble is a true Greek Chorus. From acting as narrators to portraying pivotal characters at the same time as playing instruments bringing Bowers score to life. Identically seamless yet completely different, much like a patchwork quilt; each embodies different characters yet work towards the common goal of telling the story. 

Audrey Bisson’s Gelsomina is a beautiful and vulnerable portrayed that read as
socially awkward teenager; someone who feels too much and says so little. Her singing voice is transcendental and quite entrancing. Zampano played by Stuart Goodwin is quite possibly one of the most stirring performances I have seen recently as he battles beast and beauty in a self-deprecating, greedy, journey which he can’t stop or he’ll fade away. For me, Bart Soroczynski is the true showman in this group of storytellers; able to captivate the audience with a magic trick and the next minute sit on the edge of their seats with his unicycle skills. His portrayal of The Fool was down to Earth and gave the piece a joviality it needed. 

‘To me, life is beautiful, for all its tragedy and suffering’ was once said by Federico Fellini in regards to his film and Sally Cookson’s adaptation delivers on so many levels. From it’s haunting Greek chorus to the fantastical lighting that gives Audrey, Stuart and Bart the space to tell a truly riveting, soul wrenching and brilliant story. 

‘La Strada’ plays at The Other Palace from now until the 8th of July and I can not urge you enough to see it. 

Review by James-Lee Campbell

Rating: ★★★★★
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