"Ma che faccia buffa che hai! Ma sei sicura di essere una donna? Sembri un carciofo"
Most reviews of La Strada will doubtless start with a potted history of the film but I have to be entirely honest with you and say that despite its illustrious Oscar-winning status, it's not one that has ever crossed my path. Apologies to Federico Fellini and co for that, and apologies to you readers too, for I see little point in pretending otherwise for the sake of some supposed authenticity.
So I come to La Strada with entirely fresh eyes but no small measure of excitement too for it is the latest show to spring from the extraordinary well of theatricality that is Sally Cookson. And with a writer-in-the-room devising with the company instead of a conventional book scribe, and a ensemble ever-present onstage made up of an international cast of multi-disciplinarians at hand, it is unmistakably and unforgettably Cookson.
The story is set in impoverished post-WWII Italy where children are sold by their desperate mothers to travelling strongmen. Audrey Brisson's Gelsomina is the unlucky soul, a naïf who is much mis-treated by Stuart Goodwin's brutish Zampanò but who finds potential light at the end of the proverbial on meeting Bart Sorocyznski's The Fool at the travelling circus they all join. However, Zampanò and The Fool share a dark history that can't help but impact on the present.
Against the open but playful set design from Katie Sykes, Cameron Carver's sinuous movement work makes a virtue of the ensemble as they flicker in and out of the dreamlike vignettes that accumulate into the length and breadth of the tale, rather than opting for outright storytelling. Along with Benji Bower's music which is played and sung by any or all of them, this seamless fluidity is an intrinsic part of La Strada's idiosyncratic charm.
Overtly artistic rather than immediately accessible, it isn't necessarily for everyone but I found it charming and powerfully affecting, especially in the depth and desperation of Brisson, Goodwin and Sorocyznski's lead performances. And if I reassure you that it is good to try something different if you're feeling a little sceptical, then book a ticket and I promise to get a DVD of Fellini's film and finally get around to watching it!
Photos: Robert Day
Booking until 4th March and then touring Everyman Theatre Cheltenham, Mon 6 - Sat 11 March BOOK NOW; Oxford Playhouse, Mon 20 - Sat 25 March BOOK NOW; Cambridge Arts Theatre, Mon 27 Mar - Sat 8 April BOOK NOW; Bristol Old Vic, Tue 11 - Sat 22 April BOOK NOW; West Yorkshire Playhouse Mon 24 - Sat 29 April BOOK NOW; Northcott Theatre Exeter, Tue 2 - Sat 6 May BOOK NOW; Birmingham REP, Mon 8 - Sat 13 May BOOK NOW; The Lowry Mon 15 - Sat 20 May BOOK NOW; Sheffield Lyceum Theatre, Mon 22 - Sat 27 May BOOK NOW; The Other Palace, Tue 30 May - Sat 8 July BOOK NOW