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Posts Tagged ‘Stuart Goodwin’

I have to confess that I’ve never seen the iconic 1957 Oscar-winning Fellini film on which this is based, but it seems to lend itself to adaptation as a musical, and director Sally Cookson weaves the same homespun lo-tech magic she did with Jane Eyre and Peter Pan at the NT.

Gelsomina is ‘sold’ by her mother to strongman street performer Zampano, as her sister Rosa, who died in his care, had been just one year before. She becomes his assistant, drumming up an audience and passing around the hat. He’s a bit of a bully and when they join a circus, clown Il Matto taunts and torments him, ultimately leading to a tragic outcome. Gelsomina eventually breaks free, when Zampano realises what she really means to him.

It’s a simple tale and it gets a simple but delightful production in Cookson’s Kneehighesque style. Mike Akers has adapted it for the stage (he’s called ‘Writer in the Room’ because he writes it during rehearsals, with everyone involved contributing) and Benji Bower has added some excellent music. Katie Sykes’ design has a great sense of period, place and character.

Audrey Brisson, so good in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, is delightful as Gelsomina, her voice shining in a couple of songs.  Stuart Goodwin is excellent as Zampano, with great presence and truly believable rage. Bart Soroczynski’s Il Matto is a contrastingly playful character, with genuinely good circus skills.

It’s an odd show for The Other Palace, it might feel more at home at Southwark Playhouse or BAC, but it sits well in the space and I was glad I caught it.

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This macabre tale of a man who inadvertently sells his daughter to the devil (and her subsequent journey) is a welcome return to form for Kneehigh after four disappointments in a row.

The starting point is a faustian pact (with a touch of Robert Johnson’s crossroads brought to the fore by the blues soundtrack) where the devil visits a poor farmer and offers him fancy clothes and bling in exchange for everything in his back yard. He makes the exchange enthusiastically, not realising his daughter is in the back yard. After the devil makes her father chop off her hands, she escapes and goes feral until found by a prince who falls in love and whisks her away, but the devil hasn’t finished yet; he creates a war to send the prince (now king) to and fakes correspondence between him and his mother which effectively sends the girl back into the wilderness.

It took too long (45 minutes) to take off, though in all fairness my companion didn’t agree, so maybe it’s just my impatience (if a book doesn’t grab me in 100 pages, I put it down!), but from the point at which she goes feral I was captivated. There’s a terrific blues inspired score from Stu Barker with enough songs to qualify as a musical, though in style it’s a play with music. The girl is played at different ages / stages by three actresses and Etta Murfitt’s choreography has them moving brilliantly in unison. The usual Kneehigh inventiveness is here (though we’ve seen most of it before now) and Bill Mitchell’s design around a central tree is highly effective.

The acting honours belong to Stuart Goodwin. who is terrific as both dad and prince / king; the latter a superb comic creation in kilt with a spring in his step. The three girls / women – Audrey Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar – are all excellent and Stuart McLoughlin’s devil is suitably smarmily satanic.

I still think it would be great to see Kneehigh stretch themselves again beyond gothic fairy tales like they did with their film adaptations of Brief Encounter and A Matter of Life & Death and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, but for now it’s ‘welcome back’ (and an evening free of men in Y-fronts and vests at last!).

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