BREVIEW: La Strada @ REP 08.05.17

BREVIEW: La Strada @ REP 08.05.17 / Robert Day

Words by Damien Russell / Production shots by Robert Day

A road never truly begins or ends.

I’ve searched it and it’s a genuine quote from yours truly, which is a nice change from something I’ve heard in passing or on the T.V and accidentally claimed as my own.

In a conveniently representative way, the story of La Strada never truly begins or ends either.

For those who aren’t aware, the story starts as our protagonist (it’s early and I’m not feeling generous enough for ‘heroine’), Gelsomina, is sold to the (technically antagonist, but not quite) strong-man Zampanò. But there’s already history between them, with a missing sister (deceased) as well as some back story around an absent father (also deceased). Not exactly your ‘once upon a time’ beginning. The two have a dysfunctional relationship centred around Zampanò’s sense of superiority and power, alongside Gelsomina’s struggle to find useful skills and her devotion to a man who is, in a sense, abusive.

The story ends as abruptly as it begins, with Gelsomina leaving Zampanò. We follow his journey to the point where he finds out what happened to her – leaving him in a sadder, guiltier place than where we started, but still otherwise intact. So ‘happily ever after’ it certainly is not either.

Resolution and finality were never on the cards with La Strada. Luckily I have no problem with this since Waiting for Godot entered my life by accident some years ago; it’s something I’ve come to expect from a certain type of work from that era. I say ‘era’ as I’ve struggled with the definition of neorealism and why certain works of the time ‘are’ and some ‘are not’, so I shy away from the labels and go with my gut.

BREVIEW: La Strada @ REP 08.05.17 / Robert DayEqually, I have come to expect little in the way of major character analysis. The idea of that style seems to be the presentation of snapshots of life, events and the characters therein, with the rest discarded as irrelevant. So with that in mind, I also expected the actual content of the script to be quite fixed without any huge deviations from the original film.

I approached this latest representation of Fellini’s classic work hoping for innovative staging, with good character interplay through stage presence, lighting and direction. I also hoped for a good score, as I know the score for this version of La Strada was produced specifically for it. I was happy to see that all three things were present and correct.

The first thing before us as we sat and settled, was the stage. Stark wooden flooring containing a number of wooden boxes (reminiscent of old fruit boxes) and two telegraph poles, one front – stage right, one back – stage centre. Those, and the instruments, were all that were present and all that was needed. Any further scenery was provided by the clever staging and the cast members themselves playing the lead, support, orchestra, and setting as required. Naturally the odd tablecloth, light, bowl etc came into play, but the setup was minimalist.

The use of the stage was well thought out and through the flow of people (and the few props) they created open space, movement and separation in turn. I was particularly impressed at some of the scene changes and at the way so few cast members could bring fluid movement and change. I loved the fact that the stage itself had been left largely bare to keep space for the actions and people – and through those actions, they rendered additional staging redundant.

And while I mention fluidity, it’s worth saying that I found the transitions between prose and song to be very smooth indeed. I had expected musical pieces, but I’ve often seen musicals make stark changes leaving the audience wondering why that person had suddenly burst into song and spoiling the flow of the show. I never got that feeling in this production of La Strada; I was also impressed by the score itself, feeling both contemporary and appropriate to the setting. Excellent instrumentation (but then a double-bass and cello are a dead cert for me) and skilled musicians added to an unexpectedly positive element.BREVIEW: La Strada @ REP 08.05.17 / Robert Day

The cast themselves were the sort of people I like to call ‘annoyingly talented’. A full suite of vaudeville skills were displayed by all, and whilst some cast members were better at some skills than others nothing ever came across as being ‘bad’. My only criticism was that in some instances the acting itself was a little more wooden than I would have liked. However this may have been in part due to the multi-lingual cast and script; we saw English, French and Italian at various points, and I in particular loved the nod toward the play’s Italian origins.

A brief note on the direction and script use; I was pleased and surprised in equal measure to see that this production of La Strada followed in the fashion of a ‘no holds barred’ approach. There were sections including swearing (often humorously added), violence (less humorous) and sexuality, whilst the underlying theme of domestic abuse wasn’t undersold. I’m not entirely sure if the parents sat to my left regretted bringing their young daughters or not, but the kids themselves seemed engaged with the play. So all’s well that doesn’t bug the hell out of me, bleating or rustling sweets.

I walked into the REP excited but uncertain: knowing that a stage production of La Strada had a lot to live up to, knowing that we had been promised much, and hoping that the delivery would be half as good as it needed to be.

I left the REP surprised and pleased, thoroughly entertained and impressed by this production of La Strada. Absolutely recommend. Not necessarily for less worldly wise children.

The Belgrade Theatre Coventry’s Production of La Strada is presented by Kenny Wax Ltd, in association with Cambridge Arts Theatre & Bristol Old Vic. For more on La Strada, including details of the full UK tour, visit

For more from the Birmingham REP, including full event programme and online ticket sales, visit

BPREVIEW: La Strada @ REP – running from 8th to 13th May

BPREVIEW: La Strada @ REP – running from 8th to 13th May / By Robert Day

Words by Damien Russell / Production shots by Robert Day

These days I am lucky enough to enjoy a wider spectrum of culture. On the 8th of May, the Birmingham REP will be starting their run of La Strada – Live and I will be nestled in the audience, bravely evolving out of my more erstwhile natural habitat; the pub.

For those not already in the know, La Strada (or The Road, as it would be in English) is an Academy Award winning Italian film directed by neo-realism advocator Federico Fellini, first released in 1954. La Strada is drama, circus performance and autobiography, of a sort, rolled into one.

The story is quite a rich tale of Gelsomina – a young girl sold by her mother to a travelling strong man, Zampanò, who earns a living performing feats of strength on the streets of Italy. Gelsomina is taught to play the trumpet and snare drum, as well as clowning for the passing crowds, and joins Zampanò as part of his act.

BPREVIEW: La Strada @ REP – running from 8th to 13th MayA brutal and often cruel relationship develops, until Gelsomina falls in love with another street performer called Il Matto (The Fool). The trio ends up together in a travelling circus, with Il Matto goading the strongman to an eventual breaking point; as is to be expected this doesn’t end well, with disruption and violence finally raining down on all. Even more than that, but I won’t spoil the surprise if you haven’t already seen it.

In Edward Murray’s Ten Film Classics: A Re-Viewing, Fellini is quoted as having a soft spot for La Strada, saying, ‘I feel that it is my most representative film, the one that is the most autobiographical; for both personal and sentimental reasons, because it is the film that I had the greatest trouble in realizing and that gave me the most difficulty when it came time to find a producer’.

With a rich history of difficulties, including last minute changes of voice actors, filming delays due to injury, budget issues, and Fellini himself being struck with a severe bout of depression toward the end of the principal photography, it is of little surprise the Italian filmmaker held La Strada so close to his heart. It is also remarkable that La Strada was ever finished, with audiences around the world still enjoying the story today.

La Strada has been brought back to the stage this time by Sally Cookson, an Associate Artist at Bristol Old Vic Theatre, who premiered the production at The Belgrade Theatre Coventry in Feb 2017. Cookson is known for her alternative presentations of classic productions and challenging gender stereotypes; her 2016 National Theatre production of Peter Pan turned the ‘quite passive’ character of Wendy – ‘nothing more than a domestic goddess’ – into ‘as big a part of the adventure as the other characters.’

With La Strada – Live, Sally Cookson has told the story through Gelsomina – ‘we’re seeing the story through her eyes’ – whilst celebrating the physicality of the original narrative. BPREVIEW: La Strada @ REP – running from 8th to 13th May / By Robert Day

I always like working with performers who are multi-talented,’ tells Cookson, in a recent interview with 69 Magazine. ‘It’s so tough for actors these days – they have to be able to sing, dance, act brilliantly and play instruments and they’re doing all of that in this show – and be circus performers! Bart (Soroczynski – The Fool) is a wonderful circus performer and he shows off his skills in this show, but they all play instruments and sing. That provides a real delight for the audience.’

Anyone wishing to be a part of the latest chapter in La Strada’s eventful life can do so at the Birmingham REP, with the production running from the 8th to 13th May. All evening performances start at 7:30pm (except 8th May) with matinee performances at 2:00pm on 11th and 13th May.

The Belgrade Theatre Coventry’s Production of La Strada is presented by Kenny Wax Ltd, in association with Cambridge Arts Theatre & Bristol Old Vic. For direct event from the Birmingham REP, including venue details and online tickets sales, click here.

For more on La Strada – Live, including details of the full UK tour, visit

For more from the Birmingham REP, including full event programme and online ticket sales, visit