Wit and Invention on the Wide Open Strada

Wit and Invention on the Wide Open Strada

By Richard Lutz

Take a classic movie, stir in some modern theatrics, add a twist to bring Fellini’s La Strada into modern times…and hope for the best. And, as we took our pew at The Birmingham Rep, we weren't too sure it would work. After all, a former attempt to stage the film lasted a single night on Broadway. And the original production contained gold bottomed Oscar-winning acting from the likes of Fellini's wife Giulietta, Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart.

But this new production uses its wit and inventiveness to give a good night out.

To backtrack a tad, Fellini’s story is about a waif-like innocent who is sold to a circus strongman as he takes to the road (La Strada) in ravaged post war Italy. She is open-eyed, gamine and all heart. Zampano, the itinerant muscleman who breaks chains for a living, is cruel, violent and a slave driver. In a way they need each other: she needs to survive on the scraps he pays her. He slowly realises she gives a soft edge to a brutal life.

This bittersweet little fable succeeds because director Sally Cookson strips the stage to the minimum using the everyday as props — tyres become a motorcycle, boxes become a bar, coloured fabric is a circus tent. An ensemble cast ably acts as chorus, musicians, dancers and a host of minor roles. It transforms into a busy fluid stage.

Actress Audrey Brisson, tiny and lit with a fire of energy, holds centre stage with a powerful grip on her role as the put-upon Gelsomina. Stuart Goodwin plays it loud, tough and Northern as the mean spirited strongman who finally breaks when he loses her.

La Strada is on until 13th May and is worth the price of a ticket. Fellini would have been happy. Book