Director Sally Cookson, Composer Benji Bower and Writer Mike Akers, presents a winning example of theatrical excellence. This brand-new adaptation for stage of Fellini’s 1957 Oscar-winning film made its UK premiere at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre and is now halfway through a national tour.
In an act of desperation from her mother, young Gelsomina is passed over to street performer Zampano for cash. The two start their unlikely partnership at the coast and then journey through rural Italy (Italy a country reeling from a world war spent under dictatorship). Zampano does a ‘strong man’ street act and Gelsomina joins him in introducing him and collecting coins flung into her hat. The two key characters are later joined by a third, Il Matto, a tight rope walker/clown in a travelling circus. Zampano calls him ‘The Fool’. The two have a strange contempt for one another and poor Gelsomina gets caught in the middle.
The ensemble cast are stage present at all times in their acting, musician, song or dance/movement roles. The musical score has a free form feel about it; an improvisatory style, that works well in divining the setting. Expert musicianship expressed throughout, so this, and such pleasing vocal performances, means that La Strada is the most sweetest, subtle and in-tuned example of musical theatre that I’ve ever experienced in my ten years as a theatre critic.
What is truly impressive is the ability by cast and crew to create the sense of being in a busy, public place with crowds of people. Equally impressive, is that navigated travel and changed location and altering circumstance involving the hard man and his stooge (and sometimes the clown) is clearly conveyed, even under the immoveable restriction of the performance space. Positive connotations are always happening stage left, right and above, even in the quiet times when the spotlight is purely on Gelsomina; so there is always something for the eye to see. I believe, however, that the main contributing factor crucial to my enthusiastic applause for this production, is the decision taken to cast Audrey Brisson, Stuart Goodwin and Bart Soroczynski as Gelsomina, Zampano and Il Matto respectively, well done that person because all three are knock-out!
Themes are innocence, loneliness, insecurity; life on the road; hand to mouth living, conflict, circus life, love and loss.
The public Nationwide should know that La Strada is a folksy tale which weighs heavy on the heart but is lifted by a stage production that epitomises the word ‘Arty’ in presentation, so if it is not visiting your town or city over the next few weeks theatergoers, then you must catch it when it transfers to London at The Other Palace in July!
At The Rep, Birmingham until 13 May 2017
Theatre critic, Debra Hall attended La Strada at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Tuesday 09 May 2017 7.30pm