Review: La Strada at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre

La Strada at Sheffield Lyceum, May 22 to 27.
La Strada at Sheffield Lyceum, May 22 to 27.
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A touring production of a play based on a film by Federico Fellini is on at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield.

Fellini’s film is in the neo-realist tradition, uncompromising in its depiction of poverty, yet distinctly surreal in its treatment of landscape and its sense of the bizarre.

Zampano is a travelling showman, a strongman, who pays 10,000 lire for Gelsomina, the simple-minded daughter of a poor widow. He is a bully and she is a victim. Together they set off in Zampano’s ramshackle motorcycle truck.

The film, starring Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina, is episodic and visually compelling. It’s hard to imagine it working on the stage. Yet it does.

Director Sally Cookson’s dynamic adaptation is remarkably faithful, both in terms of the events (which turn out to be more tightly constructed than one might think) and the dialogue.

Stuart Goodwin’s Zampano has a psychological depth lacking in Quinn’s performance – and a greater variety of tone.

Audrey Brisson’s portrayal of Gelsomina is delightfully nuanced, with a pathos and sense of comedy worthy of Chaplin. Under the guidance and influence of The Fool, played with dazzling circus skills by Bart Soraczynski, Gelsomina gains in confidence, begins to stand up for herself, and discovers hidden talents.

The company is completed by ten other actors and musicians – who spark off each other in a whirl of energy and style. They flesh out the themes and create a wistful atmosphere where the struggles of everyday life go on, loneliness and sadness prevail, yet not without glimpses of better ways of living, of choices which might lead to greater fulfilment.

La Strada is on until Saturday, May 27.