★★★ |  La Strada – Sheffield Theatres and London’s West End

Based on the film by Frederico Felini, La Strada is set in the heart of the Italian Countryside, and tells the story of the Gelsomina, who becomes the assistant to a travelling showman, Zampano, as they move from town to town trying to earn their keep. But things change when they join a travelling circus and they meet Il Matto, a clown, who teaches Gelsomina that there is more to life than her current existence and encourages her to find herself.

La Strada is a show with a very European flavour and a real feel for the source material, being Fellini’s classic 1950’s Italian film. The music is a broadly uplifting fusion of gypsy, jazz and folk, providing a jaunty soundtrack which melts into the story rather than providing standalone moments, and whilst the show is billed as a musical, it would perhaps be better pitched as a drama with musical interludes.

Overall, the show carried with it an impressive presentation. Sally Cookson’s direction is distinctive and stylish, with a slew of innovative theatrical techniques, carefully choreographed movement and almost constant activity on and around the stage. The set has a feeling of 1950’s European cinema, with its muted colour pallet and its use of shadows and silhouettes, and the provision of the on-stage musicians added a nice touch. Feeling almost cinematic in its staging, the show does has a certain magic about the way in which it presents itself.

La Strada boasts a large international cast, led by Audrey Brisson and whilst the performances were functional, they never really excelled. The story is filled with pathos and it is bold in its attempt to portray what is effectively a road movie on a single, static set. The pacing of the show is very slow and the narrative is thin, almost only allowing the audience to glimpse snapshots of the character’s lives, rather than allow them to join them on their journey;  which is where the production struggled overall and where the emotional punch of Fellini’s film was somewhat lost

La Strada is a show which is a luxurious, visual feast, but one which has a low-key narrative, and a steady pace; and is a more high-brow musical  for people seeking an alternative to the saccharine-coated West End extravaganzas or the traditional staples of musical theatre. It is very much style over substance, but may well reward the patient audience member.

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La Strada is currently at Sheffield Lyceum Theatres (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) until 27th May 2017, before transferring to the West End, playing at The Other Palace in London from the 30th May to the 8th July 2017. Visit www.theotherpalace.co.uk/whats-on/la-strada for details.