Bristol Old Vic: La Strada by Sally Cookson

This month Bristol Old Vic features an adaptation of ‘La Strada’, Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning film, directed by Bristol-famous Sally Cookson, Mike Akers as the ‘writer in the room’ and a fresh new score by Benji Bower performed by a widely international cast of actors and musicians.

The story of ‘La Strada’ is a tale of love and loss, set in a country that is recovering from the effects of the Second World War.

It starts in the Italian countryside where Gelsomina is bought by Zampano, a rolling stone street performer, to join him in his pursuits as an assistant. Gelsomina is the very personification of youth and innocence, serving as a complete opposite to the tough and heartless Zampano. Shortly after setting off, Zampano and Gelsomina come across a performing circus and a hot-headed tight-rope walker, and things turn in an equally funny and sour direction. Gelsomina finds herself torn between the two men, at a crossroads with her deep feelings.

Gelsomina’s character is brilliantly played by Audrey Brisson, a performer of many talents who has previously captivated Bristol audiences in the fantastic Bristol Old Vic show ‘The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk’ as the charming-voiced Bella. This time, even more so she managed to own the stage with her humour and charisma.

The story is simple, but as is the case with all classics, there is a lot more complexity and many more layers to be found when one looks more closely. And of course, the circus provides the perfect basis for portraying them on stage.

The three central characters can be seen as archetypes. The audience never does find out what why Zampano is brutal, and taking in mind Fellini’s film, it looks as if he never intended to reveal why the characters behave the way they do. Rather, he gives us the scenes and a chance to make what we want with the experience.

Zampano (Stuart Goodwin) also puts in a great performance as a show-off, and the tight-rope walker aka the fool (Bart Soroczynski) brought hilarious laughter to the audience with his unicycle routine. The rest of the cast show a true international spirit, speaking in various languages, with a couple of native Italian speakers serving as the cherry on the top.

‘La Strada’ is a sadly tragic story, but also funny, entertaining and beautiful. One walks out with that transformative lingering feeling that brilliant theatre can evoke.

La Strada plays at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday, April 22. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.bristololdvic.org.uk/lastrada.html.

Photos: Robert Day