La Strada is a bit of an anomaly. Despite being based on an Oscar-winning film, this adaptation makes for a distinctly non-cinematic piece of theatre. Story elements of the 1954 Fellini masterpiece are all there, but this is very much its own beast – a shabby, dream-like, energetic and mournful piece of theatre that will either enthral or befuddle.
La Strada takes place in poverty-stricken post-war Italy where a desperate mother sells her daughter to Zampano, a travelling strongman. The girl, Gelsomina, goes on the road with the brutish Zampano, eventually joining a circus where she meets a well-meaning clown who offers her a chance to escape.
The story is extremely slight and there’s a good reason why this is called La Strada (‘the road’ in Italian). It’s a meandering tale with a few twists and turns, but little in the way of crescendo or climax. Ex-Cirque du Soleil performer Audrey Brisson delivers an astonishing central performance as Gelsomina. With her controlled comedic physicality and stumpy posture, she is every bit the commedia dell-arte sad clown, both hilariously cute and woefully forlorn. It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the role.
Almost as good is Bart Soroczynski, playing a unicycle-peddling clown who breathes much-needed energy into the doleful second act. It’s a shame these two characters aren’t given more time together as their chemistry zings and threatens to overshadow Gelsomina’s central relationship with Zampano.
La Strada feels very much a celebration of theatre – and the imaginative input of a theatre audience. The set is threadbare, the props minimal, actors unashamedly changing costume at the side of the stage. Zampano’s motorbike is represented by a headlamp and, in a wonderful moment, the sound of rain is made from actors clicking their fingers. This is scruffy, freewheeling theatre that somehow feels both cobbled-together and impeccably rehearsed, but in the best way possible.
There’s a risk that it may be too roughly-hewn for some theatre-goers and some may find the story lacking in pace. This is theatre for theatre-lovers, quirky and kinetic, embracing its trappings and unafraid to show the frays at its seams. It moves along like a gently wavering discordant note and, like the central character’s signature melody, will haunt you long after you’ve left the theatre.
La Strada will be playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until Saturday 29th April. Tickets can be bought here.