Words by Damien Russell / Production shots by Robert Day
These days I am lucky enough to enjoy a wider spectrum of culture. On the 8th of May, the Birmingham REP will be starting their run of La Strada – Live and I will be nestled in the audience, bravely evolving out of my more erstwhile natural habitat; the pub.
For those not already in the know, La Strada (or The Road, as it would be in English) is an Academy Award winning Italian film directed by neo-realism advocator Federico Fellini, first released in 1954. La Strada is drama, circus performance and autobiography, of a sort, rolled into one.
The story is quite a rich tale of Gelsomina – a young girl sold by her mother to a travelling strong man, Zampanò, who earns a living performing feats of strength on the streets of Italy. Gelsomina is taught to play the trumpet and snare drum, as well as clowning for the passing crowds, and joins Zampanò as part of his act.
A brutal and often cruel relationship develops, until Gelsomina falls in love with another street performer called Il Matto (The Fool). The trio ends up together in a travelling circus, with Il Matto goading the strongman to an eventual breaking point; as is to be expected this doesn’t end well, with disruption and violence finally raining down on all. Even more than that, but I won’t spoil the surprise if you haven’t already seen it.
In Edward Murray’s Ten Film Classics: A Re-Viewing, Fellini is quoted as having a soft spot for La Strada, saying, ‘I feel that it is my most representative film, the one that is the most autobiographical; for both personal and sentimental reasons, because it is the film that I had the greatest trouble in realizing and that gave me the most difficulty when it came time to find a producer’.
With a rich history of difficulties, including last minute changes of voice actors, filming delays due to injury, budget issues, and Fellini himself being struck with a severe bout of depression toward the end of the principal photography, it is of little surprise the Italian filmmaker held La Strada so close to his heart. It is also remarkable that La Strada was ever finished, with audiences around the world still enjoying the story today.
La Strada has been brought back to the stage this time by Sally Cookson, an Associate Artist at Bristol Old Vic Theatre, who premiered the production at The Belgrade Theatre Coventry in Feb 2017. Cookson is known for her alternative presentations of classic productions and challenging gender stereotypes; her 2016 National Theatre production of Peter Pan turned the ‘quite passive’ character of Wendy – ‘nothing more than a domestic goddess’ – into ‘as big a part of the adventure as the other characters.’
With La Strada – Live, Sally Cookson has told the story through Gelsomina – ‘we’re seeing the story through her eyes’ – whilst celebrating the physicality of the original narrative.
‘I always like working with performers who are multi-talented,’ tells Cookson, in a recent interview with 69 Magazine. ‘It’s so tough for actors these days – they have to be able to sing, dance, act brilliantly and play instruments and they’re doing all of that in this show – and be circus performers! Bart (Soroczynski – The Fool) is a wonderful circus performer and he shows off his skills in this show, but they all play instruments and sing. That provides a real delight for the audience.’
Anyone wishing to be a part of the latest chapter in La Strada’s eventful life can do so at the Birmingham REP, with the production running from the 8th to 13th May. All evening performances start at 7:30pm (except 8th May) with matinee performances at 2:00pm on 11th and 13th May.
The Belgrade Theatre Coventry’s Production of La Strada is presented by Kenny Wax Ltd, in association with Cambridge Arts Theatre & Bristol Old Vic. For direct event from the Birmingham REP, including venue details and online tickets sales, click here.
For more on La Strada – Live, including details of the full UK tour, visit www.lastradalive.com
For more from the Birmingham REP, including full event programme and online ticket sales, visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk