La Strada (The Other Palace)

Posted: June 10, 2017 in Theatre


In a haunting final scene, director Sally Cookson finds exactly the right blend of beauty and sadness that is the essence of Federico Fellini’s 1954 film masterpiece La Strada. However, if the scene proves to be the lingering memory of this disappointing “musical” adaption, it will very much flatter the production as a whole.

I have admired Cookson’s past works in which she has adapted classics for the stage, and her trademarks of fluent movement and impressionism are here, but the paucity of her material lets her down. The adaptation is devised by the company, with Mike Akers credited as “writer in the room” and original music composed by Benji Bower. Yes, there is music, but very little of it and what there is is incidental to the story, rather than integrated into it. Branding this show as “a musical” means taking a great deal of licence.

Set in the post-War era of austerity in Italy, we see young Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) being sold, effectively into slavery, by her mother to Zampanò, a travelling entertainer with a strong man act, played with menace by Stuart Goodwin (why do so many brutes need to have Northern English accents?). They tag onto a circus and Zampanò forms a rivalry with a cruel, mocking clown (Bart Soroczynski). Katie Sykes’ set design, a couple of telegraph poles on an otherwise empty stage, represents a barren picture of the Italian landscape and there is little of the flavour of a colourful and passionate country to be found. If Cookson chose to replicate Fellini’s black-and-white format, perhaps she made a mistake.

There are bursts of energy, but far more patches where the show drags, badly in need of the life that musical numbers could have injected into it.  The core element, the mutual dependence of the ill-matched travellers, shines through, but only occasionally and a tale that should warm the heart leaves us cold, until near the very end. If Cookson likes the idea of adapting Fellini for musical theatre, maybe she would do better by taking on a long overdue revival of Maury Yeston’s Nine.

Performance date: 8 June 2017

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