La Strada – Review – Sheffield Lyceum
By Sarah Morgan, May 2017
I have a confession to make – I’ve never seen the film La Strada.
As a serious film fan, that’s a shocking state of affairs, but it did at least mean that I had no preconceived notions of what to expect from a theatre version of Federico Fellini’s classic movie.
Stage productions based on successful big-screen offerings are ten-a-penny these days. Producers believe they put bums on seats, but they’re usually adaptations of blockbusters with a ready-made audience. La Strada is a little different.
It’s more than 60 years since it won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and many people have probably never even heard of it. However, anybody interested in seeing a live production that is a bit different, massages your little grey cells and thrills your eyes and ears should catch this touring production.
The film starred Anthony Quinn and Fellini’s real-life wife Guiletta Masina as strongman Zampano and his naïve assistant Gelsomina; here, Stuart Goodwin and Audrey Brisson take the roles.
“Circus skills to die for”
The latter is a dainty firefly of a performer, flitting here and there, and is almost overwhelmingly charming. Goodwin attempts to impress, but lacks the presence and charisma of Quinn – he also simply doesn’t look like the strongest man in the world, a boast Zampano repeatedly makes in an attempt to drum up interest in his sideshow. However, the programme claims he’s built his family an off-grid log cabin, so perhaps he’s stronger than he looks!
Goodwin also had a Yorkshire accent. Is this because he was performing in Sheffield? Does he adopt a different dialect depending where the tour rocks up? Scouse in Liverpool, perhaps, or Geordie in Newcastle?
The show is stolen from both Brisson and Goodwin by Bart Soroczynski, a Canadian performer portraying a clown who takes a shine to Gelsomina and may even steal her away from her brutish employer.
Soroczynski is an incredibly accomplished musician and actor with circus skills to die for. Watching him play the accordion while riding a unicycle proves to be a surprisingly breath-taking experience. He also serenades audience members during the interval.
“An adult fairy tale of love and loss”
The rest of the cast pop up in a number of roles that give them an opportunity to showcase their talents as singers, dancers, musicians and actors. Plaudits should go to director Sally Cookson and writer Mike Akers for creating something so extraordinary, while the songs by Benji Bower, performed live on stage, will live long in the memory.
There are young children at the performance I attend who find the unusual approach to the story difficult to decipher. Despite being set in the heady world of the circus, it’s an adult fairy tale of love and loss, and parents may need to consider whether their offspring are mature enough to understand it.
Has seeing the play made me want to see the film? You bet. Now, where’s that DVD copy…