La Strada is a powerful play based on Federico Fellini’s 1957 Oscar-winning film. Director Sally Cookson has captured the powerful themes and displayed them in a performance that is both imaginative and inventive.
It’s a timeless Italian tale about a young and highly naive girl Gelsomina who is sold by her mother to be an assistant to a Strong Man and touring gypsy named Zampanò, in order to earn money and send it back to her family. After her eldest sister went to work for Zampanò and never returned, she is struck with fear but fights with the determination to do her mother proud.
Ultimately it is a tale of a young girl who is taken advantage of and abused by Zampanò when she doesn’t know any better. Earlier this year, Director Sally Cookson told me: “I think our production taps into that misogyny, and I am interested in telling that story.” With previous credits of the National Theatre’s Peter Pan and Jane Eyre, Sally is renowned for her innovative storytelling. Approaching the piece without a script and creating it purely from devising has proved a success for Cookson.
The dialogue is charming, witty and moving, Audrey Brisson who plays Gelsomina displays the character’s innocence with her head in the clouds which creates humorous moments in the show. Brisson is superbly playful, and her movement and tone encapsulates Gelsomina’s wide-eyed persona. This is contrasted well against Stuart Goodwin’s portrayal of Zampanó, who is a cruel character that abuses Gelsomina. Goodwin excellently creates this angry and tormenting character with his physical gait.
Finding herself trapped in this situation, not wanting to let her mother down but wanting to break free from Zampanó, Gelsomina matures throughout the piece and starts to discover what is right and wrong for her. As the ensemble ask: “Will she stay, or will she fly away?” Gelsomina finds herself torn.
Along the way they meet Il Matto (The Fool) played by Bart Soroczynski, who befriends Gelsomina and brings out the joy she has. She confides in him and tells him there isn’t any point her being alive because she is good for nothing. Bart Soroczynski really lifts the piece with his carefree attitude, and his depiction of the character is a pillar of hope for Gelsomina.
Sally Cookson has approached the complex themes of the piece and created a production that is thoroughly engaging and completely compelling. With the use of physical theatre, she has made the piece alive, and the strong ensemble provide immense magic in the piece. Whether it’s a soundscape of rain, the ensemble creating the uneasy waves of the ocean or a circus being brought to life, every inch of the stage is used to transport us along the road Gelsomina and Zampanó travel along.
The musicians play the music live on stage, which brings the story to life in a different way. It heightens the tragic moments, amplifies the moments of trepidation for Gelsomina and lifts the livelier moments to project a sense of optimism for the story. Cookson’s storytelling is faultless as she creates a production that the audience really invest in.
On at the Birmingham Rep until the 13th of May information can be found here.
La Strada then heads to the Lowry on the 15th of May for a week, tickets and information can be found here.