Having made no secret of our love for the circus (why not re-read our review of the excellent Giffords Circus just in time for their new season), you won’t be surprised to learn that we were in the audience when a new adaptation of Federico Fellini’s Oscar winning circus epic “La Strada” rolled up to The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. It is a bit more grown up than Tweedy though!
La Strada tells the story of Gelsomina, a young waif. She is sold by her mother into the servitude of the great Zampanò, a chain-breaking strongman. Together, they form a rather unlikely double act, although Zampanò swiftly shows himself to be a drunk brute capable of beating his young assistant. Stuart Goodwin is a brooding menace as Zampanò, using his physicality to both mentally and physically enslave Gelsomina.
Whilst there are opportunities for Gelsomina to flee, she is left searching for her own purpose. No matter how much the audience wills her, she is frustratingly unable to break the mental chains that shackle her to Zampanò. Their paths then cross with that of “The Fool”; a circus clown who mesmerizes Gelsomina and infuriates Zampanò in equal measure with his whimsical charm, unicycle and death defying high wire act. His infectious enthusiasm manages to give a reluctant Gelsomina an enhanced sense of worth. This appears most noticeably through her trumpet playing, but even his encouragement is unable to set her free. Sadly, Zampanò soon returns to exert his particular brand of control over her.
Audrey Brisson‘s portrayal of Gelsomina, a girl trapped by circumstance, is hugely affecting. Despite her increasing awareness of her situation, she is seemingly still unable to find any purpose beyond it, or find out what makes her happy. Alongside this, there is a quiet determination and willfulness in Brisson’s demeanor as Gelsomina; a resolute insistence that she will send money home, and that she will ultimately find a way to emancipate herself. Gelsomina finally takes flight and finds her voice in the hauntingly beautiful ending, moving Zampanò to just the briefest moment of remorse.
Yet for all the tragedy and sadness, the script is carefully balanced with witty comical interludes and charming street performances. They provide the necessary light and shade to develop the characters and inject a glimmer of hope into proceedings.
The stark set is imaginatively used by the hugely talented ensemble, seamlessly transporting the audience across scenes; a powerful gypsy folk soundtrack evoking raucous bars, rural Italian weddings and even raindrops dripping through a dense forest canopy. Magical!
This Sally Cookson production is highly innovative and features a sensational cast at their best. Whether you love the circus, the theatre or are just looking for a good night out, we’d definitely recommend that you see La Strada whilst you can! It is probably just for grown ups though.
Where can I watch La Strada?
La Strada continues its UK tour before finishing with a 6 week run in London’s West End. If you are local, your best chances to catch it are in Oxford, Bristol or Birmingham. For more information, visit http://www.lastradalive.com.