Director: Sally Cookson
Music: Benji Bower
Reviewer: Charlie Hackett
Based on the 1954 film of the same name, Sally Cookson’s La Strada is a real theatrical gem.
The story follows Gelsomina, a shy and awkward girl whose life is changed when her desperate mother sells her to Zampano, a travelling strong man with a cruel heart.
Audrey Bisson plays Gelsomina with a naive innocence and a Keaton-esque quality that is instantly captivating, while Stuart Goodwin’s Zampano is powerful and genuinely menacing.
This is a beautifully choreographed, highly physical performance. Thanks to Cookson’s direction and the strong ensemble cast, each scene blends seamlessly transporting us from rowdy bars to rainy streets as if by magic, deftly weaving moments of light and shade. There are moments of live singing and merriment and moments where we’re drawn to the backdrop of hanging ropes and chains, an ever-present reminder of Gelsomina’s entrapment.
Two telegraph poles help to create the illusion of the circus but also provide the cast with an interesting way to explore particular moments with creativity and in some cases subtlety, such as Zampano’s close encounter with the widow.
Benji Bowers’ music adds an ethereal, dream-like quality to the performance and Bisson’s singing voice has a remarkable, even poignant innocence and clarity. The moments within the monastery fully exploit this and are a particular highlight of the show.
Il Matto (Bart Sorocyzinski) like Gelsomina, is another character to truly care about. Charismatic and free-spirited his appearances light-up the stage, offering some welcome audience interaction, humour and some impressive circus skills. He encourages Gelsomina to break free and leave Zampano and is played real energy and warmth.
Considering the little we really learn about La Strada’s characters, they draw us in. Even the brutish Zampano can perhaps fleetingly be pitied as he cries out Gelsomina’s name in the show’s second act. What made him the violent bully we see is never revealed, but the depth of his cry hints at deeper things.
The show’s dream-like narrative may be hard to recount and may not be substantial enough for some, but those looking for a visually stunning, haunting and at times emotive performance will not be disappointed.
Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Robert Day