La Strada translates to The Road, and director Sally Cookson has created a visually stunning and imaginative adaptation of the famous Fellini film, that unravels the story of a young Italian girl that is forced out onto the road with a cruel performer.
Sally Cookson’s production of La Strada couldn’t be more relevant. It is a story of a young girl who has to fight against the system and deal with an immense amount of abuse whilst trying to find hope. Throughout the innovatively and creative production that captures the beauty of theatre, you are rooting for this girl to find her hope and fulfil her potential.
Women are being abused, and the shocking statistic that 2 women a week are being murdered is difficult to process. Sally said: “I think our production taps into that misogyny, and I am interested in telling that story.”
“Just listening to Michelle Obama saying that she is going to devote the rest of her life to making sure that women and girls have the opportunities. It is about getting away from the things that hold you back, just look at the patriarchal society – we are living in interesting times,” Actor, Bart Soroczynski
Circus artist and performer Audrey Brisson’s passion for the show seeps out of her as she talks so intricately about it’s meaning and purpose. “Despite being set in post-war Italy, it is a timeless production that reflects many issues we face today,” she said. “There is still that dynamic in today’s world, that abusive relationship that not only affects the people in it, but the people around them.”
Zampano is strong man, a touring gypsy that travels the Italian countryside on his motorbike, playing for his keep. He goes to fayres, villages and local circus’, but he sees the opportunity in having an assistant to pass around the hat. He meets a young girl names Gelsomina and requests to pay her mother ten thousand lira to take Gelsomina to be his assistant on the road.
Gelsomina is young and in complete awe of the world, whereas in contrast Zampano has seen a lot of the world. So these two people are pushed together, and Zampano begins to take advantage of her naivety.
For a show with so much focus on this young girl, it was imperative that a sweet but strong young woman was cast to be Gelsomina, and Audrey Bisson oozes this. “I’ve worked with Audrey before and she has an absolutely natural spirit that is pure innocence and joy, and that for me one of the biggest characteristics of Gelsomina’s personality,” explained Sally.
Produced by Kenny Wax (The Play That Goes Wrong, Hetty Feather), who was given a script to La Strada by Lionel Bart himself in which he fell completely in love with. After sending the script to numerous directors and receiving consistent rejection, he finally met with director Sally Cookson who instantly said it was her favourite film. However, Sally wanted to go in a different direction with it, and because of her flawless theatrical credits, he let her run with it.
“I gave Sally the opportunity to do a two-week workshop for La Strada, so we assembled a cast of 8 or 9 in Bristol, and she had two weeks in a big empty church hall,” explained Kenny. “We provided all sorts of kit for them to play with, and then all of my office and a few potential co-producers came up from London and she entertained us for about an hour. We were just totally blown away and everyone said: ‘yep we are in,’ so it was only up from there.”
“We focus on Gelsominas story as we put her at the centre of the piece, and it is a difficult story to tell,” says Sally Cookson. “It is a story of abuse, she is bought as a slave by Zampano, her mother sells Gelsomina hoping that she will learn a skill, and a craft to become an artist. Gelsomina finds herself in this relationship with Zampano, which is an abusive one, but her imagination is what keeps her alive and thinking and hoping for a better future.”
“We aren’t trying to tell this story in a linear way, so we are using music and storytelling. The ensemble find ways of lifting the story into a place that allows us to feel and think and hope – we are trying to bring it to life in a really different way,” Director, Sally Cookson
Dealing with such complex themes and emotions, Sally has approached the piece without a script, and created it as a collaboration with the cast and creatives through devising. Sally explained: “We have a very loose structure, but the actors, composers and designers all respond to the material together. We begin our journeys at the same time, so the material is created organically and collaboratively.”
Described as a musical adaptation, through the devising process, they have composed music to push the narrative and set the tone. From extravagant Italian music, to eerily poignant strings that create tension, the music heightens the piece and brings it to life. “We really want to honour Fellinis magic realism and symbolism,” Sally said. “He takes it out of the linear and naturalistic depiction of what life is like, and we want to show the imagination of this character by lifting the story off the page.”
“As Fellini said: ‘There is beauty in the tragedy of being human.’ I think recognising that being human demands us to understand that part of our lives deal with these big tragedies – which is how theatre is important. The story is heartbreaking but I’d like to hope we still engage an audience. Ultimately we are putting up a mirror to what is going on to our society.” Director, Sally Cookson
La Strada is a combination of intricate storytelling, beautiful music and remarkable circus. With light humorous moments and dark heart-rending scenes, it is set to be a theatrical experience.
Opening at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry on the 13th of February, the production will embark on a UK tour before opening at the The Other Palace in London.