Two reviews from London, England: LA STRADA and QUEEN ANNE

by Lynn on July 5, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

La Strada

At the Other Palace Theatre, London, England
Devised by the company.
Writer in the room, Mike Akers
Based on the subject and script work by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli
Directed by Sally Cookson
Original music by Benji Bower
Set and costumes by Katie Sykes
Lighting by Aideen Malone
Sound by Mike Beer
Movement by Cameron Carver
Company: Audrey Brisson
Stuart Goodwin
Bart Soroczynski
Matt Costain
Fabrizio Matteini
Sofie Lyback
Teowa Vuong
Niv Petel
Niccolo Curradi
Tatiana Sandini
Luke Potter
T J Holmes
Tim Dalling

Bracing, lively, so moving about the lonely life on the road of a circus act.

Gelsomina is a young woman who is taken on the road as the assistant to Zampano, a strong man in his own circus act. He pays Gelsomina’s mother 10,000 lire for her. Before Gelsomina he took her sister Rosa on the road but she died and the details are sketchy. He simply says she didn’t last the winter, suggesting she was frail. We begin to squirm early in this show because of Zampano’s behavior.

They travel from town to town on his motor scooter. He is strong, angry, mean, gruff, drinks and is careless in his treatment of Gelsomina. He often abandons her to go off whoring. Occasionally he beats her. And doesn’t pay her as he promised, so she can then send money back to her mother.

She is befriended by Il Matto (The Fool) another circus performer who is kind, funny, irreverent, and tries to stand up to Zampano. But Zampano is a bully and it does not end well for The Fool.

Sally Cookson is a director I always seek out for her imaginative, performance based work. She directed Peter Pan and Jane Eyre at the National. She uses circus procedures, acrobatics, ropes, ladders, swings, balancing tricks and all manner of physical techniques.

Various wood boxes are the props and a bar with a light in the middle is used to create the simple motor scooter. Gelsomina sits on a box behind Zampano who sits in front, holding the bar with the light in the middle illuminated. They bob, sway and move in unison suggesting a bumpy ride on the scooter. A band of musicians plays around the action, involved in it occasionally, acting as other acts in various circuses that are visited.

As Gelsomina, Audrey Brisson is a diminutive sprite of a woman. You aren’t sure of her age-neither the character nor the actress. I assume the character is about 12, but I could be wrong. Brisson is obviously older. She reminds me of a young Kathryn Hunter with the same compelling moves, imagination and creativity. And she is so mournful, serious and mesmerizing. As Zampano, Stuart Goodwin is a powerhouse of a man, loud, imposing, intimidating. As The Fool, Bart Soroczynski is a kind of comic relief in a mean world. He is the centre of the circus skills for the show having created the movement and choreography of The Fool.

No tender, moving moment is squandered in Sally Cookson’s careful, imaginative vividly realized production. How could it be when one of the lines is “I don’t know why I’m living.”

I’ve never seen the film of La Strada but this production and the liner notes of the program will make me see it.

It plays until July 8, 2017.

Queen Anne

At the Haymarket Theatre, London, England.

Written by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Natalie Abrahami
Set and costumes by Hannah Clark
Lighting by Charles Balfour
Composers and sound by Ben and Max Ringham
Movement by Anna Morrissey
Cast: Emma Cunniffe
Hywel Morgan
Dave Fishley
Romola Garai
Chu Omambala
Beth Park
Richard Hope
Jonny Glynn
Jonathan Christie

Initially confusing historically and very dense in the story-telling, but Helen Edmunson’s ability to capture the mean, malicious gossiping and politics of the court in the 1700s and make it seem so timely to us is a reason to see it, that and the dandy production.

Queen Anne came to the English throne in 1702. Initially she seemed very unsuitable for the job. She was sickly, often not able to move because of gout (we are told) and weight. She had 17 pregnancies but lost most of her children in childbirth. If they did come to term they too died young.

She has a school girl friend in Sarah Churchill. Anne’s affection for Sarah could be likened to obsessive love. Sarah uses that to gain power in court and that of her soldier husband. It seems that Sarah uses cunning and manipulation to control Anne and subtly make her follow her lead regarding court, decisions, decrees etc.

The gossips had a field day and would rip Anne’s physical traits and her reticence to shreds. There were pubs and rooms to do this, since Fox News and Breitbart wasn’t invented yet. Sarah also got into the act. Until finally Anne’s integrity and her determination came to the fore. She began ruling with a soft, iron fist. Sarah and her husband were sent packing.

I found the history of the play daunting. I’d never heard of Queen Anne before. Historic references kept whizzing by and I was lost. But Helen Edmundson’s historical work (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Mill on the Floss) is terrific.

Director Natalie Abrahami has created a fast-paced production with draws every air-sucking moment from the history and situations of the times. The needy relationship of Anne for Sarah is palpable in the performance of Emma Cunniffe as Anne. She is almost obsequious in her dependence. Every movement initially is an effort until Anne gets more and more confidence. As Sarah, Romola Garai is an ice queen of cunning. She plays on Anne’s affections and insecurity. This is one vicious, mean woman who is at home at that time, and sad to say, ours.

I did have trouble with the history, but I can remedy that with research. But how this play sings and is so contemporary given our present political penchant for gossip, rumour, innuendo, fake news, real news made to seem fake, makes this a powerhouse play. And scary.

It seems to have an open-ended run.

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