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BWW Review: LA STRADA, Richmond Theatre

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Federico Fellini's Oscar-winning film La Strada has earned its place as a cinematic classic. As a film, it is a visual feast and so therefore a huge challenge to put on the stage.

In a world of extreme deprivation and poverty, a widow sells her daughter, Gelsomina, to travelling strongman Zampanò. An erratic and aggressive man, Zampanò teaches her to introduce his act and exposes her life on the road. They join a circus, where tightrope-walker The Fool tries to revive Gesolmina's broken spirit. They are expelled as Zampanò's violence escalates and the tale turns to tragedy.

Audrey Brisson is fantastic as the simple and compliant Gelsomina. She really inhabits the Chaplin-esque character in her awkward, wooden walking, exaggerated blinking and stilted speech, without slipping into parody. She also brings depth and soul to her role. Her singing has real clarity and her performance in the finale is both beautiful and heartbreaking. She is a character to fall in love with.

Stuart Goodwin cuts an imposing figure as the gruff and violent Zampanò. With his huge shoulders and commanding stature, he towers over the tiny Brisson, showing a poignant physical difference between them. He dominates physically and emotionally, revelling in his role as the alpha male.

Bart Soroczynski adds humour and pathos to the role of The Fool, Zampanò's nemesis. His circus skills are suitably impressive and he has a welcome joy and lightness that is lacking in the other characters.

What makes this production unique and so engaging is the multinational and multi-talented ensemble cast. They work seamlessly together, representing Gelsomina's consciousness but also morphing into character when required. Remaining on stage throughout, they create the scenes from a simple selection of wooden crates, chains, tyres and ropes.

Movement director Cameron Carver must be lauded for the incredible fluidity and synchronicity of movement, often as though the cast is one being. A scene where the ensemble plays the circus performers putting on their makeup is particularly beautiful. The sweeping cinematography of the film morphs into one unchanging set used in a magically creative manner.

The ensemble not only sets the scenes, but also sings and plays instruments on stage, creating much of the atmosphere. Music is integral to the production and Benji Bower's original score is fabulous, especially the haunting melody that becomes Gelsomina's theme. The harmonies are perfectly pitched and the musical performance is nuanced and accomplished. Special mention must go to Tatiana Santini, who gives a particularly belting performance as a bar singer.

Director Sally Cookson has used Fellini's film as a basis for the plot, rather than an exact match. As poetic and tragic as the ending of the story is in this production, it lacks some of the emotional clout of the film, as it is dealt with fairly quickly compared to the rest of the production. However, this is a truly creative and imaginative piece of theatre; bittersweet, poignant and melancholy.

La Strada is at Richmond Theatre until 4 March and then touring until 8 July


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