A piece of theatre should stand alone and be judged on its own merits. One would like to do this with La Strada but the spectre of the original film haunts this production not least because it is invoked by a). the title – which should be, in English (like the translated dialogue), The Road and because b). the creative team display an almost sycophantic channelling of the original in the programme and publicity. So two questions arise: 1). Why do it? And 2). Does it work?
Federico Fellini was a cinematic genius and La Strada remains a celluloid masterpiece. There’s a perennial debate about whether good plays translate well to the screen – for the most part, I think the consensus would be “no”: here, though, we have the opposite: does a great film translate well to the stage? The intention appears to be to create an accurate as possible live version of the cinematic experience. I could see the merit in taking the story and doing a dramatic treatment of it. But Director Sally Cookson’s production merely tries to ape the original: and for me that just does not work.
Audrey Brisson, who takes on the central role Gelsomina, is onto a hiding to nothing from the start: she has to attempt to emulate, or at least re-produce, the mercurial and captivating performance of Giulietta Masina in the film – has there ever been a face quite like that of Giulietta Masina? – which is easily available for all to see on DVD, through streaming and via YouTube. Brisson has a lovely voice and performs her lilting signature tune with poignant melancholy but her stagey, awkward sub-Chaplinesque movement and expressions leave you feeling sorry for her – as a performer not as a character. Unlike the original, Brisson stays the same throughout with no
development of character at all – until her final musical moment hanging from a telegraph pole. This Gelsomina lacks warmth and vitality.
Stuart Goodwin as Zampanò rants and roars a bit but as a Strong Man who can break chains with his chest he is less than convincing and despite all the bluster one wonders if he could actually punch his way out of a wet paper bag.
Bart Soroczynski as The Fool adds a little of what might best be described as “dark” light relief and attempts to impress us with some low-key unicycle stunts that down in Covent Garden would likely be performed with added
chainsaw juggling for good measure – just a tad more spectacular.
To try and achieve the voyeuristic aura of the cinematic experience, which I would contend is just not possible in the theatre, we have a lot of drama-school ensemble playing depicting waves and wheels and onlookers and
inner demons. Stylisation is the name of the game in an attempt to realise a cinematic experience on stage. Go figure.
Gelsomina, the naive girl sold by her mother to Zampanò for 10,000 Lire (not very much) is then bullied, belittled, humiliated and ultimately beaten up by her “owner”: interestingly the one part that isn’t stylised is the violence which is played for real. Thus the misogyny dial is turned up to 11 with no attempt to contextualise it or view it through the prism of historical perspective. Cookson claims she is “re-imagining it for a modern audience”: to that end would she have the same perspective if the subject matter were racist rather than merely misogynistic, I wonder?
The major redeeming feature of the show is the excellent music by the wonderful musicians. They give us the colour and the light and shade and the sense of purpose that is lacking from the rest of the show: a magical
backdrop to the rather stilted narrative.
So does this attempt to bring post-Mussolini ’fifties Italian neo-realism to the English stage in the 21st-century work? Not in my book. And it begs the question: should a work of cinematic genius be tampered with, exploited, because a company fancies a “creative journey”? We wouldn’t do it with Mozart. We wouldn’t do it with Samuel Beckett. Why should Fellini be fair game?
A brief word about the theatre: putting to one side the holier-than-thou comments in the programme about the Westminster Theatre that originally stood on this site, the latest building which replaced it became the new St.
James Theatre (2012). Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company subsumed the St. James and renamed it The Other Palace. I had assumed this referred to Buckingham Palace across the road but no, it refers to the Victoria Palace, round the corner. Either way, it’s a completely naff new name: ALW states that he “has broken his rule of not changing theatre names”. At the risk, therefore, of being hauled off to the Tower I would gently suggest that you have made a very grave mistake, my Lord.
Review by Peter Yates
Kenny Wax Ltd in association with Cambridge Arts Theatre & Bristol Old Vic present The Belgrade Theatre Coventry’s Production
Based on the subject and script work by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli
Running time: Approximately 1 hours and 50 minutes, including an interval
CAST AND CREATIVE
Audrey Brisson – Gelsomina
Stuart Goodwin – Zampanò
Bart Soroczynski – Il Matto (the Fool)
Matt Costain – Ensemble/Resident Director
Fabrizio Matteini – Ensemble
Sofie Lybäck – Ensemble/Swing
Teowa Vuong – Ensemble
Niv Petel – Ensemble
Niccolò Curradi – Ensemble/Swing
Tatiana Santini – Ensemble/Swing
Luke Potter – Musician
T J Holmes – Musician
Tim Dalling – Musician
Sally Cookson – Director
Benji Bower – Original Music
Mike Akers – Writer in the Room
Katie Sykes – Set and Costume Designer
Aideen Malone – Lighting Designer
Mike Beer – Sound Designer
Cameron Carver – Movement Director
Jill Green – CDG Casting
Peter Clifford – Magic Consultant
Gwen Hales – Circus Consultant
Matt Costain – Assistant Director
Luke Potter – Assistant Touring Musical Director
Fiona Mcculloch – Company Stage Manager
Ben Cowens – Relighter/Technical ASM
Matt Gibson – Sound/Technical ASM
Rachel Middlemore – ASM/Wardrobe
Gelsomina – Tatiana Santini
Zampanò – Fabrizio Matteini
Il Matto (The Fool) – Niv Petel
All other roles covered by the Ensemble/Swings
At The Other Palace
12 Palace St, Westminster, London SW1E 5JA
30 May – 8 Jul 2017