La Strada

Based on the subject and script work by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli

Belgrade Theatre Coventry

Sheffield Lyceum

From 22 May 2017 to 27 May 2017

Review by Velda Harris

La Strada, based on the Fellini film, is a delightful, summery, devised show, full of music, song, action, drama and pathos, performed with great charm by a talented international cast.

The film is an example of post war Italian neo-realist cinema, which uses "authentic locations" to portray "the harsh reality of poverty and unemployment". Deviser and director Sally Cookson, working in collaboration with her cast, has opted for a theatrical style reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil and Kneehigh. Cinematic realism gives way to representational settings, physical theatre and mime, circus skills and magic, all accompanied by richly textured music and resonant sound effects.

This is a tale arising from the extreme poverty of the post war period in Italy. Simple, innocent Gelsomina is sold by her widowed mother to Zampano, a brutish, strongman entertainer who travels the country in a motorcycle truck and uses the inexperienced girl to promote the show and collect the little money that comes in.

The motorcycle truck is brilliantly realised with boxes and tyres manipulated by members of the company and becomes an important visual symbol for the road (La Strada) that is travelled.

On their picaresque journey, Gelsomina and Zampano encounter other people scratching a living in a time of austerity, and the full company represent the groups, sometimes crowds of people they meet. The choreography of the company’s movement (Cameron Carver) is mesmerising and highly imaginative, whether representing waves, a drunken party, the circus troupe or a huge milling crowd.

Katie Sykes’s set is economical and adaptable with tall telegraph poles providing height for the circus acts but also effective levels during the dramatic action.

The cast biographies reveal a multi-cultural group drawn from Europe and beyond with wide experience of physical theatre in a variety of different contexts. The original music composed by Benji Bower provides a breath of the warm south and gives scope for the extensive musical talents of the cast who variously play string and wind instruments, keyboard and much else.

Audrey Brisson is charming and completely convincing as the strange, almost mystical Gelsomina who remains in thrall to Zampano despite his mistreatment of her. As she matures, she develops wider skills and eventually their roles are reversed and it is Zampano who collects the money for her.

Stuart Goodwin is powerful as the brutish, drunken strong man, whose violent nature is barely restrained and leads to an uncontrolled attack and ensuing disaster for the central couple.

Bart Soroczynski plays Il Matto, the Fool, who ekes out a dangerous living as a high-wire artiste and later as a unicycling clown in the circus. Bart, who performs with heart-warming charm, is a Canadian actor with extensive credits ranging from Quebec’s Contemporary Circus to the RSC and Switzerland’s National Theatres. A truly inspiring performance.

This is very much an ensemble production, distinguished by a performance style entirely appropriate to the stage realisation of the original film and enriched by contributions from the whole company during the devising process. This is a joyful theatrical experience and worth catching either at the Lyceum or on its UK tour.